Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tucson Budget Crisis

Year end musings on the sad budgetary state of affairs of Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Tucson had an election and I pray the council will succeed in the difficult task ahead. Some guidelines for solving the budget cutting problem should be in place before the task is attempted. Prioritizing objectives must be done.

In this analysis the special place of the responsibilities of cities must be considered first.
The city of Tucson is responsible for providing essential services. As a definition of essential must be made, I say that the following services are essential.

I. Essential

Law enforcement
Fire protection
Water and sanitation
Garbage collection
Prosecution/incarceration/courts/public defender
Records and Elections
Related Administrative

Other services are ongoing but are not essential in the short term. These must be cut back what percent?

II. Secondary (not in order of importance)

City manager
Real estate
Rio Nuevo
Community services
MLK revitalization(no longer low income)
Housing Management
Community development
*Audit Housing Assistance
Convention Center
Event development
Event services
General Services
Information technology
Neighborhood resources
Parks (explore alternate way to keep open, caretaker system)

To continue this categorization, the following must be cut heavily or discontinued.

III. Non-Essential (not in order of importance)

Intergovernmental relations: elected officials
Development Services skeleton crew for the downturn
Budgetary Requirements environmental services
General Services architectural and Engineering
Fleet services could be cut overall by having fewer vehicles online
Internal service fund
Is golf a net economic boost for Tucson? How much does golf generate?
Human Resources
Urban Planning and Design
Non Departmental: mishmash of causes needs weeding out
Debt Service

Cutting the budgets of the secondary and non essential services is necessary. The essential services could use an administrative reorganization and review of expenses in order to shave off a percent of their budgets. They should be given further goals to meet.

Debt service is huge and the debts should be restructured to meet existing economic conditions, in order to prevent a default. I would rather pay police and fire protection than pay debt service, if the choice has to be made. If the pundits say Tucson will ruin its credit, perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, since about ¼ of the budget goes to debt service. The city cannot afford this debt load and certainly does not need more debt in any form. Look at it this way: if you count the debt for water systems, the debt service rises to $140,788,980, which is about 29% of total stated expenditures. I wish it were impossible for elected officials to create debt that lasts beyond their term. With so much of the expenditures tied up in debt service, flexibility appears to be limited to employee pay cuts and departmental expenditures in the form of cuts in services to residents.

What a plan! Raise taxes and continue the level of debt service no matter what happens to essential services? Not a good plan. Tell them to take a hike after you have cut these departments and downsized the budget, if that is still needed. We do not neglect the weak in order to pay debt service. We do not lay off Police and Fire to pay debt service.

Difficult decisions are ahead. May you all succeed in this task.

Dorothy Prater Niemi
December 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Federal and local entitlement programs: A long term approach

In a few years, years, the Federal budget will be all entitlements. They are now borrowing in order to fund operations and defense. Arizona is in similar shape. 2/3 of the federal budget is mandated and sunsets are nonexistent. Borrowing is rampant tying up revenue streams for years. The whole country is so tied up in debt, discretionary income is ????

Some new policies are needed:

Entitlements should be limited to X% of the total income, not income plus borrowing.
All new entitlements through legislation or initiative should have a sunset clause and an escape clause in case of a budget deficit. Flexibility is needed in budgeting.

To cut the growth of entitlements, slow population growth through tax incentives. Government subsidy of poor should not escalate with each mouth added, thus paying the poor to breed. The more well off also are breeding in record numbers, using the tax deduction to help finance it. The public schools also must accept unlimited numbers of children from any given source, which favors those with large families, while the others pay. A religious objection to population control is personal, but those who want large families should pay for it.

Suggested changes in policy:

After 1 child per person, no welfare payment raises for further children. This does not apply to food stamps, however.

After 1 child per person, no further deductions for income tax will be given by the state or federal governments and an overage must be paid for on a per capita basis.

After one child per person, any person having more than one child must pay a stipend per overage to the local school public district or arrange for private schooling subject to curriculum set by the state/federal and passage of state/federal tests.

Tax refunds to the childless.

These changes in policies would result in a slowing of population growth, which would slow the growth of other governmental costs. This would raise taxes for some, but it is those who are using the services.

Further policy changes linked:

Illegal immigration needs to be discouraged. Border security will succeed only when the economic climate does not favor hiring illegal aliens, who will work under the radar for less than the minimum wage. Perhaps the minimum wage needs to be revisited, but if population growth slows, fewer workers can demand higher wages, but only in the absence of illegal immigrant competition. Immigration policies in general need to be amended to force other countries to manage their population growth instead of relying on the USA as a population outlet.

Getting business owners out of the health insurance business and allowing them to pay what they can to workers would open opportunity. If a large business owner pays so little that their workers must apply for assistance, then possibly a stipend should be required of them, as a percentage of total profit. Reasonable compensation to the owners would be monitored in these cases.

Awareness that free enterprise will carry on under the blanket despite governments effort to control what people are paid and what these people have to buy with the money they earn. Enough already. Local trading economies will arise as will trading economies like smuggling, all of which operate without taxation or regulation. Filtering money through an administrative hierarchy in order to pay for health care makes me want to move towards cash payments that skip these people who are charging us to pay themselves to distribute this money for us. Reality check.

I still don’t get how AIG securities insurance failure milked the US government of $180,000,000,000. Did some of this $ that went to foreign banks make its way to Dubai? Prosecutors need to trail this milking and pinpoint the chain of command. What interesting news that would be. Is it true firearms permits are now more available in New York?

Like who instigated? Who set the stage? Pipeline information? Cleanup crew as recipient of riches?

We need new policy.

Suggested policy changes:

Outlaw securities, derivatives and hedging anywhere but under legalized gambling. The economy is not a toy and people depend on it.

Review economic needs within the USA before looking to export. Sell to each other and Canada and Mexico.

Free business owners from mandatory health insurance requirements

Do not force the purchase of insurance on the populace.

Link employee wages to their welfare needs to employer profits and required support payments to the state, with exemptions for subsistence business.

Ease zoning laws that discourage localized small businesses.

Ease up on taxes, regulation, licenses, fees, for all business except for public health/environmental concerns.

Fewer inspectors rather than fewer law enforcement personnel, when the government has budget shortfalls.

Policy can dictate change in oblique ways. The insistence that growth can be infinite is indicative of a lack of population curbs and the inability of production of food in the infinite is bound to coincide in a population crash, starvation of the species in the classic ecological boom and bust cycle defined by physical resources. Must we act so much like animals that we must do this to ourselves?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Opinion Bias at the Arizona Daily Star

Due to a recent problem with the Arizona Daily Star, I have taken an interest in opinion page policy analysis. Since I also subscribe to The Arizona Republic, I compared the two papers.

The first major difference between them is the amount of information about an author that the Star requires.


Daytime phone
Political affiliation
Issue affiliation
Candidate affiliation Campaign affiliation
150 word length


200 word length

The second major difference is that in the Star, submissions become the property of the Star. The Republic publishes the work in several formats and makes no claim of ownership. If an author’s work is printed in the Star, then that author has ‘sold’ it for nothing. Does this mean the author can no longer sell the piece?

The third major difference is that in the Star, submissions may be “edited for clarity and length” while the Republic makes no mention of that possibility. Who is doing this at the Star?

Having always admired the Arizona Republic as the better paper, I believe that the Star opinion page guidelines set the stage for ongoing opinion page bias on the part of the Star.