Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ma Strikes Again

The Chronicle reports:
A Travis County state district judge has said he will declare the city's sharp water and sewer rate increases valid, giving Mayor Annise Parker the legal blessing she hopes will head off efforts to force the issue to a public referendum.
The odd thing about this is the city sued itself in a court in another jurisdiction as a pre-emptive strike. Ma Parker ran for office on a pledge to not raise taxes. So far she has kept that pledge by forcing us to use more expensive lawn bags in lieu of a tax increase, and now she is trying to ram a water rate increase down our throats. Technically, neither qualifies as a tax increase. Practically and morally, we are being forced to pay more money for city services.

The fact is, most Houstonians have no choice but to use city services. Confiscatory taxes and prohibitions on private competitors grant the city a coercive monopoly on many services and make those open to competition generally too expensive. If we want our leaves carted away or want running water, we have little choice but to use the city's services. And the city can charge whatever it damn well pleases, because it's "customers" have no recourse except to yell at council members and write blog posts.

To date, opposition to the rate increase seems to be focused on a referendum. Apparently, opponents to the increase aren't opposed to the city being in the water business. They just want the "people" to have a voice in the matter.

If the city sold the water system to private companies the people would have a voice. They would have a choice in which company they patronized. Competition, and the fact that individuals would have choices, would drive costs down. In contrast, Ma claims that the city is losing $100 million a year on water services. By her own admission, the city sucks at the water business, and yet she wants to stay in it. And who can really blame her--she has millions of captive customers who must pay whatever she demands.

Interestingly, one of the arguments made in favor of municipal utilities is the fact that utilities are "natural monopolies". The nature of these services allegedly precludes competition, and therefore the city should provide the service in order to promote the "common good". Look at where that has gotten us. The city's infrastructure is in shambles and it is losing money faster than a drunken sailor in Vegas.

The solution isn't lawsuits and referendums. The solution is for the city to get out of the water business. And I don't mean some Mickey Mouse sham like retaining ownership of the assets and letting a private company manage the system. I mean sell everything and get out of the water business entirely. We don't depend on the government for our food, thank God. Why should we depend on it for our water?

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