On Monday the Chronicle reported that the city of Houston will have a budget shortfall of about $50 million. Mayor White is considering a number of proposals to close the gap, including furloughs and a separate fee for garbage collection.
I have previously detailed ways for the city to cut its budget. More than $60 million could be cut simply be eliminating building inspections and sign enforcement. Millions more can be cut by privatizing parks, garbage collection, and repealing the myriad laws that violate individual rights--such as regulations controlling sexually-oriented businesses.
The problem facing the city is not a lack of money. The problem is that it has its nose in areas of our lives that it should not be involved in. The problem is that it is spending money--our money--to control and dictate how we live and work. The budget deficit, and a whole host of other problems, would go away if the city limited itself to its proper function--protecting our rights.
Some might argue that this impractical, that the city must supply parks, libraries, garbage collection, and animal control. The city must control signs, inspect buildings, regulate "gentlemen's" clubs, and provide our water. The city must dictate the number of parking spaces at commercial buildings, mandate the types of trees we can plant, prohibit smoking in private businesses, and stop people from parking in their yards. The city must protect old buildings, monitor the activities of taco trucks, keep liquor stores away from schools, and play nanny to apartment complexes. The city must regulate taxis, keep flood waters out of our homes, help Houstonians buy a home, and make sure that there is no slime in the ice machine. And the list of activities that violate our rights goes on and on.
Those who argue that the city should provide this laundry list of services believe that the alleged "good of society" justifies government controls, prohibitions, and regulations. They believe that somehow individuals will benefit when the rights of those same individuals are violated. They believe that we are better off when government dictates our actions, rather than allowing individuals to act of their own volition.
With such a long list of responsibilities, it is little wonder that the city is running short of money. If a private business tried to provide such an extensive list of services it would go out of business. The city just raises taxes and fees, and cuts the quality of the services it is forcing us to pay for.
What is particularly interesting, but certainly not surprising, is that out of the entire cadre of city "leaders" not a single one has advocated any form of privatization. Not Mayor White, who proposes to stick his hand into our pockets to bail the city out. Not Annise Parker or Peter Brown, who want to use the coercive power of government to control development. Not the members of city council, who seem more concerned about puppy dogs than protecting the rights of the citizenry.
If Houstonians want parks, libraries, inspections of their buildings, no smoking areas in restaurants, or anything else, there are private, non-coercive methods to achieve these ends. We don't need the government meddling in our affairs and controlling our lives and businesses. If city officials truly want to solve their budget crisis, all they have to do is recognize and protect the rights of individuals. All they have to do is begin repealing the ordinances that violate our rights. It really is that simple.