liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

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Do Not Bug the Voter Who Needs to Get Home and Throw Up

I think I remember why I haven't eaten at a fast-food place in more than two years (or is it verging on 3?), and why I haven't eaten at a McDonald's in something like 4 years.

Their food makes me yak. I don't mean figuratively. I mean literally. I barely made it home for a horrible technicolor yawn.

I think I saw what I ate for breakfast yesterday.

*blerg*

I somehow managed to keep it together during grocery shopping. Because I felt like crap-o-la, I decided to hit up my local Hannaford's instead of going to the farm stand. Big mistake. My grocery bill made my eyes pop out of my head and may have contributed to the feeling of nausea.

Sadly, you can see the effects that the increased food prices are having. The 25-pound bags of rice have doubled in price in the last month, for example. Then there's the mysterious case of the shrinking food...i.e., bagels are the same price, but instead of getting 6 you get 4.

I don't even want to talk about the price of meat. It'll make me cry. Or throw up. Actually, given the way my stomach feels right now, I suspect option two is more likely.

Something strangely interesting to note, however: at least half the people shopping today brought their own re-usable shopping bags (including yours truly). I don't think I've seen a ratio that high in, oh, ever. What makes it doubly weird is that almost all of these reusable bags were from Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck), Trader Joe's (aka Half Your Paycheck, But For Brands You've Never Heard Of), and Costco (aka Enough Canned Goods To Last You One Year). My bagger was quite taken with my hot/cold bag from Sam's Club (a gift from the parents), because of it's size and handle locking mechanism. Seriously, it looked like we were all advertising that people should grocery shop somewhere else while paying for our Hannaford groceries.

Anyway, as I'm walking out of the store (complete with the feeling that I needed to yak getting ever-stronger), I was waylaid by two teens who wanted me to sign a petition to get their dad on the ballot for city government.

Let me admit here and now that I acted like a classic bitch. However, I tend to get that way when you hand me platitudes, no answers, and a brainless drumbeat of cutting taxes with no plan.

Dramatis Personnae:

    Bitchy Moi (BM)
    Campaigning Teen (CT)



Campaigning Teen (CT): Excuse me, miss? Would you be willing to sign this petition?

Bitchy Moi (BM): [suspecting that she's going to yak on this kid's shoes any second now] What's it for?

CT: To get my Dad on the ballot for City Council.

BM: [groans, but feels she should do her voter-ly duty] What does he stand for?

CT: He's anti-war and anti-taxes.

BM: [brain snaps] Anti-war. What does that have to do with running for City Council?

CT: [deer in headlights look]

BM: [feels bad] Look, anti-war I can get on board with.

CT: [relieved as he shoves petition under my nose] So you'll sign the petition?

BM: Only if you tell me what you mean by "anti-taxes," because that tells me absolutely nothing.

CT: It's about good economy.

BM: [waits for CT to elaborate, when there's nothing more forthcoming, considers throwing up on CT's shoes to make a point] That tells me exactly nothing. What do you mean by "anti-taxes?"

CT: [uncertainly] Cutting taxes?

BM: [waits for CT to elaborate, when there's nothing more forthcoming, begins to think throwing up on CT's shoes is looking better and better] Fine. Cutting taxes. How are you going to make up the shortfall? I ask, because just about every city in the state is on the verge of bankruptcy, so I'm thinking cutting taxes is a bit too pat of an answer.

CT: [looks relieved] By cutting city spending!

BM: [brain snaps in frustration] From where?

CT: [surprised] What?

BM: Where is your dad going to cut city spending? Because telling me that you're going to cut taxes and make up for it by cutting spending doesn't tell me a thing. Where's he going to cut spending?

CT: [blinking] Ummmm, he's going to cut taxes!

BM: [begins to think throwing up on CT's shoes is looking like an idea whose time has come] That's. Not. An. Answer. Surely your father has at least looked at the city budget, right? Surely he's got a list of things that he thinks could be done more economically.

CT: [mumbling] I dunno.

BM: [thinks that instead of throwing up on CT's shoes, she should just hit him with a 2X4 cluebat] I've got a better idea. Don't cut taxes. Do cut whatever fat you can find in the municipal budget, and here I'm thinking that we should start by cutting the pay for City Councilors. Then, take that money, and invest it in asphalt so the city can keep up with road maintenance. Then, invest whatever is left over into road salt so we can stockpile for the winter.

CT: [starts looking for an escape route] That's not what my dad is running on.

BM: Then he doesn't want my signature. [Pat's CT on the arm, and then makes a mad dash for the car because I can feel lunch is about to re-appear in a nasty way]


Aside from the desperate need to get home so I could toss my cookies in private, a lot of my frustration with these local "small government, no taxes, no spending" nitwits is because they're starting from a bevy of false assumptions and they always end up backtracking from their "small government, no taxes, no spending" promises.

And why is this?

The answer is simple: Not one of these people have actually sat down and glanced at a municipal budget, let alone read it from cover to cover, before they decide to run for public office.

That's right. Not. One. In 10 years of being a reporter, and *mumble mumble* years of being a regular ol' joanne who pays attention even when it's not election season, anytime someone runs for municipal office and their platform consists of "small government, no taxes, no spending," I can almost guarantee they've never seen a municipal budget in their lives. (Please note: There are always exceptions to this rule, but I can count the exceptions on one hand and have fingers left over. You can always tell the exceptions because they tend to have an actual plan as opposed to an empty-headed promise).

Look, a municipal budget isn't that big. We're not talking the federal budget here with its gazillion pages and arcane rules that allow for earmarks and additional spending after the budget has theoretically been approved. I'm not saying a municipal budget is small, but you can certainly read it in a couple of days.

So I would think that if you're running for city government on a platform of "small government, no taxes, no spending," you'd actually, I dunno, get a copy of the city budget and read it over so when a bitch like me comes along you'll be able to answer my questions. It's not like this is hard to get. City budgets are public records. By law, city hall has to give it to you if you ask for it.

Hell, when I was a reporter, I had to read municipal budgets all the time. I kept a copy of the damn thing (and sometimes there was more than one "damn thing") on my desk. So I don't think I'm asking for too much here.



So before you fall for the "smaller government, no taxes, no spending" promises of your average poltical nitwit running for local office, please keep the following facts about municipal budgets in the U.S. in mind:

  • 40%–50% of a municipal budget is tied up in salaries and benefits for employees. While we've all heard about the department head making $250,000, most city employees get paid a hell of a lot less. Most of them get paid market rates or lower (sometimes a lot lower). If you cut personnel, guess who tends to get cut? Not the department head making $250,000. I guarantee it.

  • 20%–30% of the budget is money that the city is required to spend due to federal and state mandates. Some of these mandates (i.e., roads, some school funding requirements, etc.) are funded, but many are not (i.e., clean water requirements, landfill requirements). In short, the city doesn't have a choice. By law, they're required to spend this money and they can't spend it on anything else.

  • Whatever percentage of your budget is left over is called "discretionary spending." Now, keep in mind that more than half of your budget is completely out of your control. The slice of the pie that you, as a city, actually controls ranges from 40% to 20%. And the discretionary spending? Not so discretionary. Unless you think a fire department is a waste of money. Or maybe you can do away with a 24-hour police department (Don't laugh, I know of some smaller towns that don't have a 24-hour police department). If you're in the northern part of th U.S., I'm sure you'll be more than happy to do away with plowing or salt for the roads in the winter. What about health department inspections of restaurants? I'm sure you could do away with filling in the potholes on the city streets, too. And, oh, hey! We don't really need to replace those 20-year-old biology books at the high school with something a little bit newer, do we?



Look, I'm not saying that there's no fat in a municipal budget, because I'm sure there is (looking at you "business expenses" for city councilors). I'm just saying that anyone running for municipal public office should, I dunno, actually know how a city budget works. I'd think that'd be the minimum requirement, but that's just me.
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