“It belongs in a museum” could easily be used to describe progressives’ application of fiscal responsibility to big city budgeting.
Of course, they all claim to believe in it. Even President Joe Biden said, “The (budget’s) first value is fiscal responsibility.”
In practice, however, fiscal responsibility is the Bud Light of city government budgets: seemingly refreshing, but tinged with alien social values—equity, diversity, climate change—and ultimately devoid of real calories. Still, residents are beginning to feel the hangover. It’s a headache called spending; long-term health consequences include debts, taxes, and other five-letter words. Use at your discretion.
For city councils, there are always good-sounding reasons for more government spending — “sounding” being the opportune word. If you hand someone a credit card, don’t be surprised when they buy something. And after the yearlong weekend shopping spree of the last city budgets, the government should sleep on the couch.
You can say a lot about liberals, but you have to admit they put your money where their mouth is. To paraphrase George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux, “I’m very sure that when God gave Moses the commandment, ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal,’ he did not mean …unless you get a majority vote” in city council. In the end, it’s your money, until city bureaucrats decide they need it, probably to solve nonexistent problems with fool-hardy solutions.
At bottom, it’s your pockets left picked.
“It’s basically highway robbery,” said one Dallas resident. And with the property taxes soaring in the city at a rate of 74.58 cents per $100 —who can blame her?
According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “Dallas’ excessive spending habits cost a family of four, on average, about $10,000.” And if the budget is not put in check, it will mean more money out of residents’ pockets and away from the private sector. Put differently, city debt is always paid by one group: residents.
And it’s not just Dallas. Houston, San Antonio, Austin—all the usual suspects—have violated the number one rule of balanced budgeting: balance. Across all three cities, the average debt per person amounts to roughly $10,225.
Budgeting 101: don’t spend more than you can afford to pay. Cities, take notes please. Bills have a strange habit of coming due.
Now, I’m not suggesting cities adopt the budgeting habits of Ebenezer Scrooge, nor the prodigal son. Rather, officials should aim for a responsible local budget (RLB) where spending is capped at the rate of population growth plus inflation. San Antonio, for example, outspent RLB by $1.3 billion since 2013. Austin, not wanting to be outdone, outspent RLB by $2.2 billion.
For many cities adopting an RLB would mean cuts. My personal recommendation is to start with the Austin Climate Equity Plan. But it’s a target-rich environment. Or take salaries; for example, the El Paso city manager receives $431,000. Dallas pays its manager $423,000. For context, those are higher base salaries than the CEO of Amazon and the president of the United States. For mayors, city council members and citizens, as they pay property taxes this year, the question is the same: “Am I getting what I’m paying for?”
If anything, big city spending belongs in a museum, preferably under lock and key—far away from those who wish to abuse your pockets for their progressive projects.