In Canada they spent upwards of $20 million in order to find around a million dollars of questionable spending by senators.
In many of the States of the United States pensions are woefully underfunded.
In Springfield, a “State Park” remains closed and locked to legal (at least) visitors.
25 years ago PBS broadcast the 10 part “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman and I purchased the accompanying paperback.
What do these things have in common and what do they have to do with urbanism?
Somehow the message “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, repeated like a mantra in Friedman’s book, was ignored, most especially by the people who claimed his take on laissez faire economics would save America, and it has led to a circumstance where our unpaid lunches are coming home to roost. (Try un-mixing that metaphor!)
For years now, politicians have pointed to “waste, fraud, and abuse”, along with Keynesian magic, as the explanation for how taxes could be cut without effecting government’s ability to deliver services. They point to studies which demonstrate the existence of said waste, fraud, and abuse, and claim that cuts in revenue will be made up by eliminating those line items. The problem is, as the Canadian example and years and years of international studies demonstrate, it costs money to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse because waste, fraud, and abuse thrive where there are no “Hawtch-Hawtcher bee watchers“. Cut the budget from an organization and oversight is one of the first things to be eliminated, and corruption becomes easier. Look at the list of most and least corrupt governments and you’ll see that the least corrupt are veeeeeery expensive governments which pay for lots of Hawtch-Hawtcher bee watchers, and the most corrupt are the lowest cost, where no one is watch the watchers.
Bottom line, keeping waste, fraud, and abuse out of the system costs money, it doesn’t save it.
So what does get cut?
Items which have little or no obvious impacts in the short term, like planting street trees, building maintenance, sidewalk repairs, or funding pensions.
And then what happens? As decades of unwise stewardship begins to catch up…buildings which, with good maintenance, could have lasted for a century or longer need to be replaced, infrastructure which could have been useful for decades longer decays more quickly, huge payments must be made immediately to avoid insolvency.
What follows is political triage. Why does Lake Lorraine State Park get locked up? Because the City of Springfield has an excellent municipal park system, the state park serves a tiny constituency in a minority community with clout only when it moves en masse or within its political class. So a fairly large long term investment in public space gets neglected because of the tiny marginal savings doing so can redound onto the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. Is it the wisest move given the value of the resource? Has anyone come out and said that the state simply can’t do its job with the revenues at its disposal?
Government costs money. A grown up culture would decide on that government’s responsibilities and priorities, target revenues to pay for those responsibilities, and pay for them. Period. We’re not “over taxed” if our government, at whatever level, has committed to do a thing but does not have the revenue to do “said thing”. “Over taxed” or “under taxed” is determined by whether or not government has the revenue to follow through on its commitments. If there is an imbalance then either more revenue must be extracted or less must be done, but grown ups understand that their own personal priorities will never be perfectly matched with government’s priorities in a democratic society and therefore some of what we pay will not correspond to what we’d like.
Our state government has a park it acquired to provide recreation for the people of this state. Open it, maintain it, and allow people to use it, or tell us you cannot and admit that it should be sold and put into the private sector, whatever its value. Be honest about how much what we want to do will cost.
If you want open parks, it will cost more money, you may have to live more humbly, buy less crap, or vacation less. You don’t want to give those things up? Then you’ll get fewer parks, fewer roads, less access to libraries, etc..
We need to grow up and realize that behaviors have consequences and we can’t always get what we want. Pretending these things are not true will be even more disastrous the longer we pretend reality doesn’t pertain to us and that lunch is on the house.