Thursday, September 3, 2009

Solving Houston's Budget Deficit

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.


Anonymous said...

This is the most sensible post I've had the privilege to read in years. Houston has strangled itself in often self-serving legislation that does little except run up the budget costs.

Houston at one time had a unique quality that set it apart from other big cities. Somewhere along the line, that became "not quite good enough" and here come the "let's pass some more laws" people elected to city council.

The mayor and city council need to get off the backs of the people and let Houston breathe again.

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks Anon. I fear that it will get worse before it gets better, given the candidates we have running this fall.

Rorschach said...

Let us not forget the $11 million dollars that the city gave tot he Houston Arts Alliance for art that mostly has never been delivered. And what HAS been delivered is either hidden away from everyone (behind locked doors at a sewage treatment plant.), or is frankkly ugly as hell. (I point to the multicolored stairway buildings in Dicovery Green.), And the money that the city is spending to build a soccer stadium (close to another 11-12 million).

Between those two alone we have come up with $22 million in savings if the city just stopped sending money on them. That is almost half the shortfall right there! Well, that is depending on who's numbers you listen to. I've heard 100 million from Anise Parker's campaign (which is funny since she got into a bit of a tizzy when Bill King published his op-ed piece calling the city out for having an unbalanced budget.), I've heard under 10 million from Bill White (who wants to be Senator White so badly he can taste it), and I've heard this 50 million number which I have no clue exactly where it came from. Frankly I'm more inclined to believe 100 million+ number, it is better to overestimate these things in my opinion.

Brian Phillips said...

As you point out, it really isn't that hard to find all types of ways to slash the budget. All it takes is principles, and the courage to stand up to those who want to feed at the public trough.