Governing in Prose

I spent the better part of my Monday following City Council’s public hearing on the 2012-2014 municipal budget- on twitter, through webcasts and in person. A lot of the budget was familiar; nonetheless, it was very interesting to hear all the different perspectives

So here are the three things of note on the budget for me:

1) The thing I wish I had seen some more of: Benchmarking.

We had a lot of benchmarking that showed the past performance of a particular business unit but not enough on how we fare compared to other cities. I think that we have a comparative advantage with our low tax rates (which leads to overall levels of affordability) as well as a great service value for what we pay. But that’s based on anecdotal evidence at best. We need to see the quality of the service we provide as a City to evaluate whether or not we need to continue funding the service.

2) The term that was most misused: Efficiencies.

As my friend Chris Harper mentioned, efficiencies are found in the process and not in the budget. You find cuts in the budget. I think we also use efficiencies as a catchall phrase for effectiveness and efficiency- both of which are great guiding principles but has to be used in the right place to achieve the right objectives

3) The thing I wish more people had caught on to: Payoffs.

Like a true econ nerd, I think of the budget in terms of payoffs. Of course, we could all choose to pool all of our money and have the City provide every service under the sun but I don’t think that option is available to us. I think we need to change our thinking on some of the City’s processes and find some savings that way, but the vast majority of the difference that can be made in such a mammoth budget is through raising the revenue or making significant cuts. Though each expenditure can be justified by the paltry amounts it comes to for each household or resident, the underlying principle of fiscal responsibility is compromised. We as a city have to know what our equilibrium point is: how much are we collectively committing to pay and for what?

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