Cut the Budget or Raise Taxes? Kansas City, Make Your Choice …
Today’s Kansas City Star has a very good and detailed look at Kansas City’s projected budget problems. I believe it was Harry Truman, fittingly enough, who said something along the lines of how he never saw a budget that could not be cut. With that in mind, I will give credit to the mayor for his quote at the end of the article:
Funkhouser said the city can’t duck the budget problem or it will only get worse next year.
“You can’t wait for a better time,” he said. “The consequences of not acting will be worse than the consequences of acting.”
So now that I see the mayor at least intends to address the issue head-on, let’s discuss the suggestions as laid out by the article (all bullet points below are direct quotes from the article, and all emphasis is added):
- Cutting the $2 million city contribution to the Truman Sports Complex or subsidies to other regional assets such as Liberty Memorial, Starlight Theater and the zoo. Funkhouser says he’s not advocating a stadium cut in the next budget, but he does think regional assets should be funded regionally.
Why doesn’t Kansas City consider a zoo-museum taxing district, along the lines of what Saint Louis has, to fund these things regionally? That is one thing that works well here.
- Closing the city jail, saving about $4.8 million, or privatizing the service to save part of that amount.
This deserves careful consideration. In Saint Louis County, the privatization of the jail’s pharmacy services has worked well, but the use of entirely privatized prisons for Missouri has not fared as well. I am referring here to the infamous video of Missouri convicts getting the crap beaten out of them by guards in a Texas private prison, for no reason except to torment the prisoners. And trust me, I am not one to normally side with the prisoners, but those scenes were terrible.
- Cutting part of the $2 million that Kansas City spends on bulky-item pickup.
Bulk pickup is highly overrated. It’s easy enough to borrow a friend’s truck or just hire a hauler. This sounds like a good cut to me.
- Reducing spending on city planning services and things like dangerous-building demolition.
Amen to the first part. Government central planning is a waste of time and money on anything beyond the basic levels of zoning, and similar areas. If anyone in Kansas City government is working feverishly at "transforming Kansas City into (insert hyperbole here)," which they are, that can be cut out. Markets and investors should be making these decisions — not government planners who can’t even be trusted to know what it is that they don’t know. The dangerous-building demolition should be kept in full, though. Those abandoned places that nobody except the curious ever go can be dangerous.
- Reducing spending on youth initiatives or neighborhood mediation efforts, which could save about $1 million.
I have to guess there are both things that need to be maintained in full and some options for cuts in this list, but I can’t say which are which without seeing more information.
- Reducing spending in the City Council and mayor’s offices.
I am sure there is plenty of opportunity for cuts here, but in the end it would probably add up to a small portion of the projected deficit. It should still be done, though. The mayor stated in the article that the Council needed more legislative analysts, rather than fewer. If the Council can’t trust the information from its own city manager, who is supposed to be non-partisan and unbiased, and needs more legislative analysts, that is a problem with the city manager — not a legitimate call to grow staff. (Please note, I said "If"; I am not making a judgment in the dispute between the mayor and the city manager.)
- Laying off up to 100 people, which could save about $5 million. Some council members recoiled at that idea. Funkhouser and Ford said they want to streamline city departments and reduce the number of middle managers, but focus more on empty positions than actual people.
We finally get to the real solution. Way too many people in government think there is some sort of right to a government job. This question should really be asked before even talking about money and budgets. First of all, do the government workers you have all work solid 40-hour weeks of actual work? If they don’t — and there probably isn’t one government in the world where they do — then many of them should be let go. I am very familiar with the history and role of political machines in government, and I would be stunned if a city such as Kansas City did not have far more city employees on the payroll than are actually needed. Some councilmembers want to protect their own employees first, whether or not they are needed or can be afforded. That is not surprising, but it is exactly the type of governance that gets a city into a budget problem in the first place.