It’s so very nice to read and hear Mayor Thane’s critics characterize her and others as inhabiting a magical place when they themselves reside in a literal economic and fiscal Disneyland in our fair city, and for most, a lifetime as princes and princesses here with a court of assembled characters heralding that, indeed, their wisdom and rule have showered the lands and the common folks with untold good fortune at their lot in life– not now or in their lifetime– but soon, so very soon, if only the common folk will wait for the wisdom and virtue of their rule to be revealed, and then at that magical point in time when the soundtrack swells and crescendos and the dark clouds of economic and fiscal dread dissipate, the kingdom will be enveloped in a golden light such that all is glorious in the now fair city on the Mohawk, the Magical Kingdom for all other cities to envy and loathe. But fear not, good folk, moats and drawbridges will assure the Magical Kingdom remains strong and true from the Outside knaves who dare attempt entry.
Let us behold and look forth at what economic and fiscal policies, if we just wait long enough, assure us an end –so very, very close now– to our long, dark days and years. Lest ye forget of what potions and elixirs we shall quaff, ye shall be reminded by this very blog post. Alas, ’tis a bitter irony indeed that the pestilence and curse of blogs shall weigh upon matters of fiscal and economic import to the kingdom. But here, forthwith, I present your potions and elixirs of which Mayor Thane’s critics demand you quaff:
The Disappearing Fund Balance Potion-– I’m going to piggyback a bit off of Tim Becker’s spot-on post on this issue on his blog. Here is the salient part:
Except that the economic climate in 2007 when Emanuele stepped down was vastly different from what we have experienced from 2008 until today. These graphs clearly show how cities all over the nation began to experience extreme difficulties as the economy began to collapse in 2008. Given the reports of many cities now facing bankruptcy, I think we are fortunate, all things considered, to even have a fund balance right now.
This potion presumes that you believe it is rational to expect in an economic downturn that fund balance would remain the same or increase instead of applying fund balance to retain services and/or mitigate tax increases. A powerful potion indeed but nothing more than water with a couple shots of ‘shine.
The Invisible Budget Hand — this potion imparts budget powers to the Mayor only such that the Mayor unilaterally drafts, creates, negotiates and approves the budget even though the Charter explicitly states that the budget is a Committee. This potion renders the quaffer willing to believe that no other hands or minds crafted the budget. This potion is especially coveted by the council and controller to escape any ownership or culpability of the budget. Indeed, the potion enables the Council to decry budgets they themselves were physically present but magically they do not become accountable and even rail against budgets for which they were present and voted aye.
The Forgetfulness Potion — this potion is perhaps most powerful and does not need to be quaffed as the potion occurs naturally in drinking water. This potion wipes any memory for voters that they indeed approved the budget structure and budget committee by Charter Change. The potion’s effects become more pronounced around budget and election season as voters readily fall under demagoguic spells rendering them unable to understand why budgets befall them or their very hand in a dysfunctional process
The Lower Taxes and No Impact on Services Potion — this potion warps financial reasoning such that you can cut taxes in an economic downturn even though expenses rise at a faster rate than the tax cap all the while preserving the faltering services we have now. Sure.
The Infrastructure potion — this potion enables 10s of millions of dollars of infrastructure to be built with absolutely no federal aid, no state aid, no local taxes or fees, and no bonding. A quite powerful potion commercially available at Stewart’s and rumored to be water with peyote.
The Water is Our Greatest Asset Potion –– This potion relies upon a favored approach to economic thinking both locally and nationally– the fact that something is in great supply means that it is by default an asset and hence highly valued. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me explain why:
1) The mantra that water is our greatest asset is decades old so it must be true. Ironically, the biggest asset on the books is aggregate property values on which property taxes are based. And what is the recognition or discussion of our true greatest asset — precisely zero. I appreciate getting schooled in assets when we ignore any discussion of the hard assets owned by city residents and businesses. Think about how many times a policy maker talks about addressing property values or property values form an issue in a campaign.
2) If water is our greatest asset, why do we cap the revenue under the guise of a tax cap? The fact that the tax cap acts as a revenue cap on our greatest asset is deeply humorous until I remind myself that it costs me to chuckle. What the recent budget showed, that gets beautifully misunderstood and mischaracterized, is that we have a self-imposed cap on what we can charge for water to outsides users. What’s even more humorous as a city tax payer is that rather than offset my property taxes to outside municipalities who consume water, that I as a taxpayer paid for via bonds, I get to watch the tax burden shift back to me in higher property taxes than I would otherwise pay. Couple that with the fact that we then impose a price-cap on water to encourage development outside of the city in the towns– which in turn puts even more pressure on my property taxes to rise and my home value to decrease.
Maybe I’m parochial but let me ask a very impolite question: why do I as a city tax payer want to subsidize the towns at my expense?
3) Water is our greatest asset means that economic development must therefore maximize marketing and promoting that asset. It’s been made quite clear by each and every economic development agency that economic development that maximizes water must occur outside the city. The question then becomes: how does Amsterdam turnaround under this scenario of water as its greatest asset? Apparently as a city tax payer, I must act as a passive bystander while development flourishes elsewhere. Maybe I misunderstand finance but if something is my asset, should I not realize the ROI of that asset?
Yet all of the above is considered the usual slogans of “protecting the taxpayer”, “fiscal responsibility”, “tough choices”, yadda, yadda.
You must be joking.
Of course when you point out that our greatest asset is not water but the very fabric of a viable city, that’s simply hilarious. What’s not hilarious is that indeed the variability of this city is getting flushed downstream by city taxpayers funding outside development on their own dime and with their assets assured to depreciate at the expense of appreciating someone else’s home values. Sweet.
In light of my arguments above, there is a nuanced argument to be made that the fate of the city and towns share a common thread. I don’t dispute that a nuanced argument can be made to that effect. I just reel at the fact that the arguments are anything but nuanced. It’s like trying to have a nuanced debate with a doctor who insists on amputating your child’s arm to get rid of the splinter in his pinky — there can be no nuance in such a discussion with a person wielding a saw. Just to be clear: the opposing arguments neither recognize nor admit to nuance; nuance to policy discussions is taboo.
DisneyLand is not a new creation of Mayor Thane; DisneyLand is here and now and forever with economic and fiscal thinking that is so profoundly misguided, ill-thought and ruinous that it’s actually difficult to grasp that you actually live and breathe within the Magic Kingdom itself.
If you don’t believe me, just look for the talking teapots– they’re quite easy to spot.
Welcome to Disney on the Mohawk.