Citizen Wausau

A Site About Life in Wausau, Wisconsin

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Local Austerity

by on May 7th, 2012

I am an avid listener to NPR’s Planet Money Podcast.  In all honesty, it is probably my favorite podcast, other than the ones I work on myself.  Tonight while mowing the lawn I listened to an interview with a man named Simon Johnson.  Johnson is the former Chief Economist for the IMF, and the one guy who seemed to be talking about fiscal strategy in a way that I appreciate.  And it got me thinking about local cuts, and what it means to take on this idea of austerity.

It seems to me that all of the discussion that takes place around local budget, state budgets, and national budget can lead to a simple self serving desire, or just bullshit posturing that has no basis in reality.  Locally we are guilty of this, a great example was my personal reaction to the expanse of the Curling Club.

I read first about the updates to the streets in the neighborhood.  And I just flipped.  You see I read comments on the various websites about streets in neighborhoods that are just shot.  I drive a route to work (since I cannot take a bus, thanks Fred Schuster and Mark Maloney) that is a bit rough.  So, I was outraged!  Furious!  How could those swells at the CURLING CLUB get this upgrade before anyone else…damn the swells and those city hall insiders.  Wait, what did I say?  Who did I become? Those people who hate on the 400 Block?  Yep, I became that guy.

Turns out the Curling Club is a GIANT DEAL.  Huge events, lots of prestige.  Thousands of people use it and come to Wausau each year to use it.  It turns out that the curling club is a massive deal, and the upside for supporting it in some way made sense.

But, you see my latent outsider class resenter status could not function with that, and I initially became a guy who hates the 400 Block, because those wine people use it and I never go because it is not my thing.  I hate that I became that guy.

The reality is this discussion about budget is a real discussion, not some sort of partisan hack job.  The discussion becomes about what we want government to be, and how we want it to proceed.

Do we think that supporting some of the parks, even though the parks make no money, is a good investment?  Or should we sell them to say, Mr. Ghidorzi for development?  Now remember, parks do not pay for themselves.  They are not budget neutral.  Someone needs to mow the lawn, trim the trees, and that land is land that can be developed and this development can be put on the tax rolls, and that is income, which is a good thing.

How do we balance this locally?  It becomes the question of priorities.  It becomes a discussion of what we think a local government should do with the money it brings in, versus the money it lays out.  It becomes a real question.

I do not mean to beat on Fred Schuster and Mark Maloney, but it is too easy.  Now, the Village of Weston faced a financial issue.  It needed to make cuts.  During the discussion about cuts, the area in question became the WATS bus.  So, over time this leads to long drawn out discussion and fighting.  As reported by the WDH, it comes down to 30K, for which WATS put together a plan to keep service to Weston.  But, the leadership in Weston made a decision to cut the bus, and that was final.  Now, they are making another decision to spend money fighting against having a referendum.  Regardless of the bus, these are fiscal decisions.  Is the legal fight costing more than 30K, one must wonder.

But, this comes down to what we want.  What theory we operate under.  The Grover Norquistian STARVE THE BEAST, or the idea that you spend money to make money.  I am no economist, but I am probably of the spend a little to make a little theory.

I believe that some parks are worth the cost, and that libraries are the holiest of holies.  I believe that librarians are the high priests and priestesses of progress in this country.  I believe that the job creators are each of us, and that we need to incentivize the starting of our own business.

But really, I do not know.  I just know that the constant refrain of my taxes are too high, they should not spend that money, and all of the rest, comes from a selfish desire.  I also think it is self defeating.  Yeah, no one wants to give the money they earned to someone else.  But, I like roads and libraries, and I like the YMCA (so I pay to be a member).  At some point the money goes into the government, and we can have a real discussion about what should go in, and what it should go for.  Maybe more needs to go in, like Simon Johnson said, and less needs to go out like Simon Johnson says.

But, I think nothing is served by being a guy who hates on curlers.

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