Bad Ideas, and a Few Good Ones, in Springfield Budget Dispute
Today’s Springfield News-Leader has a detailed account of the budget troubles facing Missouri’s third-largest city. The primary cause of the budget problem is very similar to St. Louis’ own (most) recent problem: dramatic increases in the police and firemen’s pension costs. Kansas City has also just recently completed a tense budget debate, though with different causes, so this gives us a nice opportunity to review all three cities together. Springfield now gets to decide if it is going to address its problems in a manner like that of St. Louis, which raised taxes for about the 47th time in the past decade (with voter approval, I grant you, and "47th" is hyperbolic) to deal with its pension shortfall, or like Kansas City, which admirably made tough budget cuts to deal with its problems in a systematic long-term manner.
Springfield is proposing to collect an authorized pension tax that it has had on its books for years but never bothered to collect. University City did essentially the same thing this past year for the very same reason. Anyway, the important thing to me is finding appropriate cuts in government spending. A chart accompanying the article details how Springfield is not making any substantive cuts to its spending. Instead, it is basically just moving money around from one account to the pension accounts. While they are eliminating vacant positions, they are not laying anyone off. I don’t doubt that those vacant positions will be filled just as soon as possible they have not changed the overall environment, as Mayor Funkhauser is trying to do.
I do like the reduction in outside legal fees, as well as the cut in lobbying expenses for its Washington lobbyist. Springfield needs a lobbyist why, exactly?
Councilwoman Mary Collette questioned the wisdom of cutting in half the city’s funding for a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
She asked Cumley to find out how much federal money the lobbyist may have helped bring to Springfield.
Carlson indicated it was in the tens of millions.
"If we cut their money in half, does that mean we’ll get half as much back from the federal government?" she asked.
Cumley said he would try to find out.[ME: Governments hiring lobbyists to get money from other governments is insane and should be illegal. Please don’t take that as an attack on lobbyists just on government.]
Springfield deserves minor applause for a few things and the tax hikes are small, truth be told. But really, this is just a shell game that will not change anything in Springfield in the long run. Now, if it wanted some serious change, there is an enormous asset staring Springfield right in it face: City Utilities could be sold off and better run by a private utility. I’m just supposin’…