Playing Budget Kabuki—They’re Doing It Wrong!
[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
A while back I wrote little post I liked, called “How the Porkmeisters Play Budget Kabuki.” It was an exploration of how the tax and spending types try to snooker you into simultaneously believing that shallow cuts were deep and to try to coerce you into allowing them to spend your money or to tax you. It was short, sweet, and I liked it. And then for some reason I just didn’t have the chance to post it right away, and the next thing I knew, it was too old a story to run, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to delete it.
And now today, we have the perfect example of this what that never-published post was talking about in the budget showdown. For instance, in this Washington Times article, they write:
A shutdown would also cancel Saturday’s [C]herry [B]lossom [P]arade in Washington, will shutter national parks and will mean the Federal Housing Administration can no longer guarantee loans.
For those who aren’t local, the Cherry Blossom Parade is one of the bigger events of the year. Here’s how this site describes it:
Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates spring in Washington, DC, the gift of the cherry blossom trees and the enduring friendship between the people of the United States and Japan. The Festival produces and coordinates 16 days and 3 spectacular weekends of festivities, primarily free and open to the public.
And this year they were going to have fund raisers to help out Japan after that trifecta of disasters that hit them. Now maybe you see what they are up to, and maybe you don’t, but for me to make my point, well… I have to pull out that old post. So this is what I planned to say, around last December:
So keeping government budgets low is in vogue, but there are politicians who really, really want to spend anyway. What to do, what to do?
Well, what you do is you cut something really visible while continuing to waste behind the scenes. They did it here in Virginia closing down highway rest stops. The Oakland police famously explained that budget costs would make them unable to enforce many categories of crime. And now officials in Vista, California, have said they would turn down half the city lights and lights at city hall.
From the AP article:
To trim $9 million from their budget, Vista officials say they will shut off half of the city’s residential street lights in March unless property owners agree to pay higher lighting fees.
Fees could cost residents of the north San Diego County city between $4 and $20 a year.
In turn, Vista residents complained about bright lights at the new City Hall.
City spokeswoman Andrea McCullough tells the North County Times that lights in the park behind the building have been shut off and lights in front of the Civic Center have been dimmed.
Inside the building, she says lights are being dimmed at 7 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.
Most lights are energy-efficient so dimming them won’t save much, but McCullough says residents will at least know the city is doing its part.
In other words it’s about show. And of course the city lights—which are important to keeping down crime—will stay off until they agree to pay a higher “lighting fees” a softball word for taxes.
Now, I have no special factual insight here, I am just applying my cynicism to this situation. But I am willing to bet that in fact, the cuts go no further than the cutting off of lights. That is, I bet there is enough waste elsewhere in the government that if eliminated, the savings could pay for the costs of lighting the city streets. They will cut the most visible and most vital services to do two things. One, to give you the impression that they are really tightening their belt when they are not. And two, to try to force residents into squealing so that they can plausibly claim that they had no choice but to keep on taxing and spending.
Don’t buy it. Be more cynical. If you live in those communities, demand transparency in the budget, and find and show the waste they could be cutting, rather than visible and vital services.
And that is what they seem to be doing here. From a Washington Post piece on plans for the possible shutdown:
The District of Columbia would have no trash collection for at least three days, and the city’s libraries and Department of Motor Vehicles offices would close unless Congress provides the federal funding needed for those operations before Friday, according to senior Obama administration officials familiar with plans for a federal government shutdown.
Trash collection would not start again until one week after the shut down, and street sweeping would be suspended….
Schools will remain open. Police, fire and emergency services personnel will remain on duty.
So at least they are not as cynical as the cops in Berkeley above. But it seems to me that their plan is to make children complain about not being able to get library books and to make the city fill with trash to put pressure on people to settle for smaller cuts than we need as a nation right now.
But then when reading about all the deprivations we would suffer, the parade of horribles, I saw that plainly they were doing it wrong. From the Washington Times piece: