Sunday, November 7, 2010

Former Annapolis Mayor Commits Suicide (30 years ago) Due to Budget, and Other Observations

Really?  Geez.  That tragic piece of history, previously unknown to me due to age and other detriments, at least offers the refreshing bittersweet quality that an elected official would actually care that much about taxpayer money.  

A friend of mine's father was in charge of preparing a county budget, and as a kid I always chuckled when he worked late during "budget time", because I wondered what was going on during the majority of the months during the year when it was not budget time.  The truth is, there's a reason why municipal budget officers routinely garner some of the highest salaries in government.  Government finance is complex, plus you're spending other people's money, and those people often get pissed about how you are spending it.

Josh Stewart took a look at historical budgets and provided his insights in the paper today.  Josh, I imagine, finds himself in a place I've found myself many times before.  It's a lonely place, where untold hours of digging through boring documents yields results only marginally different from what other, lazier people who didn't look anything up will claim to have known all along.

So, here's some stuff that stuck out to me.
Consider these inflation-adjusted figures: In 1990, the average Annapolitan paid $302 in taxes. Ten years later (in 2000), it was $257. Today, it's $394.
(Man, they must have a used a really early base year to calculate those inflation adjusted figures. In 2010 dollars people are paying like $5k-$10k ish and up just in property taxes.  If you don't care about base years, just ignore this writing.  It's inside parentheses; it's ok.  Shout out to my statistician homies who care about this nonsense.)

This isn't an "in my day a Coke cost a nickel" situation.  Theoretically inflation adjusted (a.k.a. "real") figures would stay roughly the same as long as the level of services stayed roughly the same.  In 2000, when the real per capita tax was $257, we had police and firefighters.  In 2010 we have police and firefighters, but real per capita tax is 53% higher.  I can't emphasize enough the difference between 'real' and 'nominal' figures.  A 53% increase over 10 years in nominal terms is equivalent to, say, a glass of wine with dinner.  A 53% increase over 10 years in real terms is like chugging heroin out of a fire hose.  So what's the main difference in the political landscape that occurred between 2000 and 2010?  That's right: blogging!  We require annual bribes to avoid publishing detrimental things about politicians we know are doing a bad job.  Your tax money paid for the heroin hose I am using while writing this post right now!  Just kidding.
Moyer stands by her fiscal policy and has a stack of reports that give a glowing view of her eight years in office. Yes, her budgets grew, she said, but only because she chased millions in federal grants and tackled long-planned construction projects.
So, for 8 of the years responsible for the 53% real tax increase, Moyer was mayor.  If her claims that she "chased" more money are true, then the real tax rate wouldn't have had to increase to fund the budgets.  Plus, if anything I would guess that Mayor Cohen is more likely to chase money, as he still finds favor with the state party peeps that hand out those grants and governmental transfers.  Is there any reason not to assume he'd be able to get the same amount of federal grants?  (Answer: no)

Governments have only a loose incentive to be responsible with money.  The stronger and more direct incentive is for them spend money in a way that helps their short term political career.  Time shall ever bear witness to how the city deals with this problem.

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