Asking Stephenville City Council candidates the right questions

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Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

In my column last week I recommended that citizens ask city council candidates how they plan to work within the financial demands imposed by the citizens, which include new spending but no new taxes, and specifically how they plan to pay for the new multipurpose center many are interested in building.  Reading the “newspaper”’s report on what the incumbents want to do should they be re-elected, one can see that they’ll have an even bigger challenge in funding every project they’re interested in.  Among the projects listed by one or more of the incumbents are:

  • The East Side sewer collector;
  • Airport runway extension;
  • Street maintenance, repair, and construction;
  • Bosque River Trail extension;
  • New library;
  • New senior citizens center;
  • Expansion of water production, treatment, and distribution capabilities; and, of course:
  • “Economic Development.”

Wow.  Quite a list.  Where’s the money going to come from?

Of course, our city council’s dilemma—how to allocate limited funds, especially in the era of “no new taxes,” among competing and growing demands—is not uncommon.  Indeed, it‘s a concern to practically all governments at all levels.  What makes this dilemma almost universal is the fact that typically the public wants more than it’s willing to pay for in higher taxes.

But that’s not really just the public’s fault.  It’s also the fault of our national political “leaders,” both Democratic and Republican alike, who’ve for too long told the public what it wants to here, however  demonstrably false that may be.  Since our national Constitution does not require balanced budgets, or any budgets at all, our “leaders” have been free to spin whatever fantasies they choose with little or no accountability.

The Democrats can fairly be called the “tax and spend” party.  For decades they’ve created, frequently with Republican assistance, more and more social welfare programs—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare—to be financed with higher taxes.  They blame deficits and the national debt on the failure of the Republicans to support high enough taxes to pay for their programs, and claim that if only The Rich, or The 1%, could be taxed more, there’d be enough money to balance the budget—never mind that confiscating everything from The 1% would make only a temporary dent in our national debt.

Republicans are just as bad, if not worse.  They’ve propagated the myth that tax cuts will generate more revenue by stimulating economic growth.  But as the exploding deficits of the Reagan and George W. Bush eras show, cutting taxes, especially when one is increasing spending—whether on national defense, or new entitlements, or whatever—will increase deficits and the debt.  Yet Republicans, untroubled by these realities, simply borrow more money, thereby increasing the national debt.  They’re the “borrow and spend” party.

The most honest and rational approach—one too honest and rational for our Democratic and Republican “leaders” in Washington—is to let the public know it can have whatever it wants from government, subject to two conditions:  First, whatever is wanted can’t be prohibited by law, and, second, the public must be willing to accept a high enough tax rate to pay for the new things and programs it wants.  If the public wants more spending, it must accept higher taxes.  If it wants lower taxes, it must accept less spending.

Of course, since the city of Stephenville, unlike the federal government, must balance its budget, and since the voters have said “no new taxes,” the main issue will be where to cut in current spending to free up money for the new spending the public demands or city council members want, unless Stephenville suddenly enjoys much more economic growth than it has now. 

So, let me reiterate my suggestion from last week:  In addition to asking city council members what they want to do, ask them what they don’t want to do, or will forego doing until better economic times come.

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