Thursday, May 14, 2009

If I Were Mayor: The City Budget

Mayor White unveiled the city's budget for fiscal year 2010 on Tuesday. The mayor's introductory letter instructed city employees to "manage every single cost", which is certainly good advice. At a news conference the mayor bemoaned the fact that the $4 billion budget will not allow him to address all of his priorities:

None of us are happy that there are any unmet needs. But in a city of this size, there will always be unmet needs.

Among the items the mayor cannot address are flood control, updates to the emergency medical system, and expanding the city's recycling program. None of these are proper functions of government. Indeed, more than 75 percent of the budget is for functions that should be provided by the private sector.

The budget for the police department will increase 2.7 percent to $675 million. The police, the courts, and administrative costs are the only functions that should be on the budget. Which means, limited to its proper function of protecting individual rights, the current budget should be less than $1 billion.

Council members and the mayor made the usual noises about tightening the city's belt and making hard choices. But the fact remains that the city should not be in the business of providing parks, libraries, "cultural services", trash collection, or a myriad other things. The budget represents business as usual.

Cutting the budget really isn't that hard. I have previously pointed out how this can be achieved--privatizing services, selling assets, and repealing laws that violate individual rights are a good starting point. Paying off the city debt would save $240 million for a savings of approximately 11.4 percent of the general fund.

Mayoral candidates talk about economic growth and make vague statements about how they will encourage business. But they continue to advocate exorbitant spending, government intervention in the economy, and programs that stifle economic activity. Freedom is the true economic stimulus.

If the mayor, or any of the candidates for that position, were truly serious about job growth and tightening the belt, they would heed my suggestions. If the city government were limited to its proper functions, Houstonians would retain more than $3 billion that will be taken from them. Economically, that money would be saved, invested, or consumed by those who earned it. And all of these involve economic activity that creates jobs and leads to economic growth.

Morally, taxpayers have a right to the money that they have earned. Confiscating money to pay for parks, libraries, "cultural services", and similar programs punishes the productive and rewards the non-productive.

The truth is, city officials want to have our cake and eat it too. They want to pretend that they care about "quality of life" and economic growth, while they simultaneously take actions that destroy both. This may sound trite, but actions speak louder than words. City officials--including mayoral candidates--want more control over the economy and our lives. They may claim otherwise, but their actions are aimed at doing precisely that.

The blame does not entirely lie with politicians. Voters and taxpayers demand and tolerate such actions. They believe that need supercedes rights, that fantasies can be fulfilled by government. Until the citizenry believes differently--which requires a philosophical revolution--an actual campaign for mayor is pointless. Until the citizenry demands freedom, they (and we) won't get it.


Rob said...

My god! Houston's budget is almost 2/3 the size of the entire budget of Oklahoma's state government? I only wish we had the guts to cut ours down to $4 billion!

Brian Phillips said...

Houston's population is about 2.2 million, versus about 3.6 million for Oklahoma. So the spending per capita is fairly close. Regardless, it is still outrageous.