KC Budget Crunch Continues; Payroll Still Padded
The Kansas City Star continues its thorough coverage of the budget situation in KC with a clarifying and honest article about the background of the budget problems albeit one presented in a mildly annoying Q&A format. Don’t get me wrong, the strengths of the article far outweigh the format, and at least Q&A is better than the worst writing format of all: the pathetic "5 myths about something or other." But back to the budget.
The most important part is right in the beginning (emphasis added for all following excerpts):
Q: How did the city get into this mess?
A: The bottom line is that, for years, Kansas City’s expenses have grown faster than its revenues. Since the 1970s, the city’s population has dropped from more than 500,000 to about 450,000. Its infrastructure needs have increased substantially, and revenue growth has not kept pace with inflation. The city provides millions of dollars for indigent health care and other social and cultural services that the suburbs don’t have. Since early 2000, Kansas City has also taken on mounting debt obligations and guaranteed incentive payments to developers.
Meanwhile, gasoline costs are skyrocketing and the city must spend more for pensions, health care and salary raises. Although the city downsized in 2003, the work force has crept back up from 4,344 in 2005 to 4,678 currently.
Too many TIFs and too many city employees are obviously a recipe for budget deficits, but I object to the theoretical aspects of the problem just as much as I object to the budget realities. Too many government employees are there intentionally, as part of political machines, designed to be kept on the payroll for the benefit of the governing faction. This is true even in civil service positions, because civil service employees are usually going to want to grow government for their own benefits as much as patronage employees do. (Do not take this as a criticism of civil service rules; they are clearly preferable to patronage.) Too many TIFs, or other abatements, play into the idea that the government rather than the market knows what the economy of Kansas City needs, by granting favors to certain plans but not others. Next point in the article:
Q: What are the main proposals to cut spending?
A: Funkhouser would slash the zoo and Liberty Memorial subsidies, eliminate 220 jobs, and close the jail and the animal shelter. At the same time, he would add $10 million for street paving, hire 20 new police officers and spend $200,000 on a citywide education summit.
City Manager Wayne Cauthen initially recommended using a $14.6 million wireless telephone settlement and across-the-board department cuts to help balance the budget. Critics said Cauthen papered over the city’s problems; he has since submitted alternatives.
Last week, Finance Committee Chairwoman Deb Hermann and Vice Chairwoman Jan Marcason submitted a compromise that pared back Funkhouser’s harshest cuts but cautioned against Cauthen’s optimistic revenue projections. It includes many difficult choices. A committee narrowly sent that plan on to the full council.
I commend the mayor for his proposal to cut government jobs, for reasons discussed above. If a job is not necessary, you should eliminate it rather than just keep someone on for the benefit of the machine or to be nice, on the taxpayer’s dime. I think that outsourcing such things as the jail and animal shelter are worth strong consideration, but I don’t know enough about the exact details of both to argue for or against closing them. And I don’t think that now is the right time to fund a new summit of any kind, be it talking about education or climbing Taum Sauk.
Certainly, the cell phone settlement will help as well as provide regular revenues in the future but using a one-time windfall to close a problem just moves the problem to next year, when it may be even greater. By making the tough choices now, the Kansas City administration and council are doing what they were elected to do. I find it very impressive.