Posts Tagged ‘local government’
July 18th, 2013 at 5:10 pm
The Wages of Liberalism
Posted by Print

This story would be slightly less depressing even if we hadn’t all seen it coming for years:

Detroit on Thursday became the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy, as the state-appointed emergency manager filed for Chapter 9 protection.

Kevyn Orr, a bankruptcy expert, was hired by the state in March to lead Detroit out of a fiscal free-fall and made the filing Thursday in federal bankruptcy court.

A number of factors — most notably steep population and tax base falls — have been blamed on Detroit’s tumble toward insolvency. Detroit lost a quarter-million residents between 2000 and 2010. A population that in the 1950s reached 1.8 million is struggling to stay above 700,000. Much of the middle-class and scores of businesses also have fled Detroit, taking their tax dollars with them.

This, of course, doesn’t take the analysis back quite far enough. The population and tax base are symptoms, not causes. Why did people actually leave? Well, there were local officials intent on driving out part of the population on racial grounds, the dominance of unions that ended up choking the auto industry, overwhelming crime rates, and a spate of corrupt politicians.

For decades now, Detroit has been a laboratory of liberalism. Today’s news only makes explicit what many of us concluded long ago: the experiment has failed.

June 29th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
Where Government Works
Posted by Print

Last weekend, the New York Times ran a must-read piece on the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb of nearly 100,000 residents that has managed to privatize the overwhelming majority of local government services — and is reaping incredible benefits as a result (another city with similar policies — Weston, Florida — was recently profiled in Governing).

Sandy Springs doesn’t have to worry about out of control public pensions, spiraling debt, or restive unions. The reason? It doesn’t have any of them.

Of course, this being the New York Times, their reporter, David Segal, might as well have been dispatched to the surface of Mars. Failing to find much in the way of practical drawbacks, he grasps for a moral failing, resulting in this unintentionally hilarious passage:

Hovering around the debate about privatization is a basic question: What is local government for? For years, one answer, at least implicitly, was “to provide steady jobs with good wages.” But that answer is losing its political tenability, says John D. Donahue of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. “A lot of jobs in government are middle-class jobs that in the private sector are not middle-class jobs,” he says. “People aren’t willing to support conditions for public workers that they themselves no longer enjoy.”

In a way, what Sandy Springs and other newly incorporated towns have done harks back to a 19th-century notion of taxation, which was much less about cross-subsidies and much more about fee for service.

To which I say “it’s about damn time.” If local government was ever about “steady jobs with good wages,” it was a mistake. The purpose of government is to provide vital services to the citizenry that aren’t produced by a free market. That may produce “steady jobs with good wages,” but that’s an effect of the endeavor, not a cause for it. If public service isn’t the goal, then the whole project is simply a racket to employ one group of people at another group’s expense.

What has the New York Times and the Harvard faculty aghast is the notion that government ought to serve some useful purpose for the taxpayers and that its value is measured only by the extent to which it fills that charge. That the citizenry of places like Sandy Springs and Weston are beginning to realize that is a real source of optimism for the future of local government.

June 6th, 2011 at 5:05 pm
Redevelopment Agencies Under More Scrutiny

Previously, I interviewed California Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby about the costs associated with taxpayer-funded redevelopment agencies (RDAs).  Along with liberal use – and threats – of eminent domain powers, RDAs siphon away local tax money from schools, roads and other public services to service the debt incurred to privilege certain businesses.

Writing for City Journal, Steve Greenhut of the Pacific Research Institute laments the dependency on RDA funding by local officials like the mayor of Glendora, CA.

When I spoke to Tessitor, I finally got to the heart of his redevelopment defense. The city relies on RDA funding for 15 percent of its budget, he said, and assuring the city’s financial future is “all I care about.” Individual cities have indeed become dependent on redevelopment money, but that doesn’t mean that the current system works. Nor does it change the reality of how these abusive agencies operate. I sympathize with the mayor’s budget worries, but if Glendora is an example of redevelopment done right—as he argues—then the situation is even worse than I thought.

For the all the protests to the contrary, it’s hard to shake the feeling that RDAs are crony capitalism by another name.