Municipal spending sprees cannot be funded by radar guns, parking tickets, red-light cameras

In the real world, even inebriated nautical spendthrifts sober up and realize they don’t have any more money. Drunken sailors at some point have to get sober and return to work to generate income for their next intoxicated spree.

    Civil servants, however, never sober up from the intoxication of spending.

    It seems I’m beating a dead horse to discuss spending restraint. Certainly I’ve overindulged that impulse here, but, you see, the spending horse isn’t really dead. It just lies down until you’re not looking and then bolts down the road.

This week The Daily Sentinel reported that in another of a long list of shocking developments involving tax revenue, Grand Junction city officials were wrong in what the paper generously referred to as their “best guesses” about how to plan for a budget. This statement is an affront to guesses everywhere.

We continue to discuss the dissonance between the ideas that you can raise revenue and promote business by spending irresponsibly and creating a hostile work environment. We can’t even go one month between stories of the City Council spending more than $3 million on the first phase of renovating the Avalon Theatre to a story how the budget is suffering a $2.2 million shortfall

But don’t worry. We’re going to save some of that money by not doing some road projects, because transportation is perfect and entertainment is lacking.

However, what was really chilling in this week’s story was that city officials were complaining they had missed out on $300,000 in traffic fines.

It’s interesting how they could put a number on that, almost as if there was an expected number of tickets they expected to be written. This apparently was because the city’s traffic unit was disbanded in January.

I wonder if we subsequently had more accidents or just fewer tickets and why was it disbanded? Artistic differences? Guitar player quit?

Don’t blame the cops; they’re the good guys. They just don’t want to be laid off and replaced by a couple of roundabouts and a film festival.

I’m not sure what kind of municipality manages its budget by the use of a radar gun, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t supposed to be this one.

Someone asked me after the publishing of the budget article if I thought the next bright idea to increase revenue might be red-light cameras. At first I said no, and then I thought about it and realized I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

You know what else helps generate retail business? Really high parking fines in the downtown area and expensive short-term parking meters. Let’s give customers the “what for” if they spend a little too long perusing merchandise downtown.

The use of a criminal justice program to enhance revenue is a precipice that leads to lessening liberty to increase income, and, if you don’t think parking tickets are part of a criminal justice program, try not paying one for a while. Is a connection between parking tickets and someone melting down the Liberty Bell a little bit of hyperbole?

Probably, but these kinds of things are not so much about their immediate result as about the thinking that makes it seem all right. A government that doesn’t want to pave its roads but wants to write lots of tickets is one presenting a peculiar face to its community.

Many feel that government officials have an idea that all money is theirs and it’s just temporarily loaned to the population. That idea percolated down to Mesa County a few years ago in trying to re-imagine the law in a way that would let the county keep more money to do more good things. Who can argue with that?

It is but a short hop from the difficult and sometimes expensive work of keeping a society free and prosperous to concentrating on the less demanding and more lucrative area of regulation. Like a lot of fines and fees.

Governments can’t have control without money. When they realize control can make them money, that’s not the kind of capitalism I can support.

Rick Wagner writes more about politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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