Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Killing The Goose?

The downtown parking issue here in Athens presents an excellent case study, microcosmic though it may be, of the tension between government’s unending quest for more revenue and the consumer’s willingness to foot the bill. And no, that is not meant as an imputation of our local elected officials – it is just the nature of the beast.

At its most recent voting session (see agenda item 17), the Commission overhauled on-street parking fees and fines as they pertain to the downtown business district:

• Increased the hourly rate from 25¢ to 50¢
• Increased the fine for an expired meter from $3 to $10
• Increased the fine for “feeding” an expired meter from $5 to $15
• Limited metered parking to one hour on a number of streets (East Broad, East Clayton, North Lumpkin, and College Avenue)
• Extended metered parking from 6:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.

The problem is that some of these measures dramatically exceed the recommendations made by the Athens Downtown Development Authority, which manages parking in the area. As a result, the ADDA is circulating a petition among downtown business owners calling on the Commission to scale back the expired meter fine from $10 to $6 and the “feeding” fine from $15 to $12, as the ADDA originally recommended. It also supports a uniform 2-hourt limit on all metered parking

My concerns are not so much about parking rates and fines – by general consensus rate and fine hikes were overdue – but about other, more philosophical and, I daresay, more important issues. One is the unfortunate habit the Commission has of legislating on the fly and the other is the lack of understanding government exhibits about people changing their behavior in response to tax policy (or fee and fine policy as is the case here).

Regarding the first, I am not arguing that the Commission should approve without question whatever recommendations come before it. On the other hand, though, to exceed the ADDA recommendations by such wide margins, the Commission renders any such recommendations moot, not to mention any deliberations made during the Commission’s own previous work and agenda sessions. Why should folks spend the time and effort developing carefully reasoned proposals just to have the Commission summarily reject them? And this is far from the first time this has happened; remember the essentially pointless deliberations of the Multifamily Housing Committee and the Stormwater Advisory Committee?

The second has to do with the law of unintended consequences, which forms the basis of the ADDA petition. Many locals do not even consider venturing downtown in the first place due to a combination of concerns as to traffic delays, the lack of convenient parking, and the ever-present threat of being accosted for money by our ubiquitous “urban outdoorsmen” (yes, that is a Boortzism). So, in a move designed to generate a little more revenue, the Commission is going to add to the cost of doing business downtown and simultaneously decrease the amount of time available to conduct such business.

Regardless of the specific amount of money involved, is the projected increase in revenue adequate to offset the potential decrease in economic activity? Will consumers continue to come downtown during regular business hours, or will they vote with their feet by taking their business out to the Georgia Square Mall area or the burgeoning commercial corridor just across the Oconee County line on Epps Bridge Parkway?

These are not merely academic questions. Unfortunately, governments typically base their revenue projections on a static model – if tax rate X generates revenue Y, doubling the rate to 2X will yield revenue of 2Y – without the acknowledgement that consumers can and will alter their behaviors in direct response to changes in tax policy. Needless to say, the folks at City Hall, underneath the Gold Dome, and inside the Beltway would all do well to recognize this reality.

Heck, even
Michael Bloomberg, hardly a model of fiscal restraint, has figured this one out.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trust and Obey – For There’s No Other Way*

How anyone can trust Barack Obama is completely beyond me. No, that is not just my political philosophy talking, though I will readily admit to being predisposed against Obama’s ideology (more about which in a later post). Regardless of one’s political leanings, though, consider the following promises he has broken during the campaign and in just a couple of months in office:

1. I will debate John McCain anytime, anyplace (until McCain proposes a series of ten “town hall” debates, that is).

2. I will accept public funding and limit my campaign expenditures accordingly (until it suits my purposes to do otherwise, that is).

3. I will not appoint lobbyists to serve in my administration (until it suits my purposes to do otherwise, that is [see also tax cheats]).

4. I will not craft policy through the use of signing statements as did president Bush (until it suits my purposes to do otherwise, that is).

5. I will delay signing any bill that reaches my desk for 5 days (until it suits my purposes to do otherwise, that is).

6. I will not sign any bill that contains earmarks (until it suits my purposes to do otherwise, that is).

7. I will go through every appropriations bill line by line to eliminate wasteful spending (until it suits my purposes to do otherwise, that is).

8. I will not throw Rev. Wright, et. al., under the bus (until it suits my purposes to do so, that is).

These are the ones just off of the top of my head. One can argue that a couple of these are trivial, but others emphatically are not, and the breaking of even trivial promises speaks to a president’s veracity – or rather the lack thereof. And that is precisely the point.

Prior to his inauguration as president, Obama possessed precious little in the way of experience. His record in the Illinois State Senate, when he wasn’t voting “present,” was that of a hardcore leftist. His record in the United States Senate, for that handful of months before he began campaigning for the presidency, was that of a hardcore leftist. We voters had only Obama’s rhetoric to assure us that he was not a hardcore leftist, but the moderate, centrist type of guy that he claimed to be. And quite a few believed it.

Since taking office, however, Obama’s appointments, his policies, and his stated intentions are anything but moderate or centrist. To my thinking, Obama built his campaign on misleading rhetoric. Now that he is in office, the misleading rhetoric continues, while his actions belie the proclivities of a hardcore leftist. Perhaps that is why all of those moderate independents, and even some supposedly moderate Republicans, who voted for him are now having second thoughts.

As should be the case with any politician, pay close attention to the words but pay even closer attention to the actions.

*Apologies to John Sammis.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Impertinent Observations

It has been a while since I did an IO post so here goes:

The next time I find myself in the market for a new car, the first place I’m gong to go is a Ford dealership. That is because the company, precisely like it did under FDR’s New Deal price-fixing scheme, refused to kowtow to government mandates and control. Besides which, its not like that car company bailout crafted by the political class up in Washington has worked out so well.

The recently ill-advised expansion of SCHIP – you know, the government health care plan targeting “poor children” that is now open to those who are neither – was enthusiastically called a “first step” to nationalized health care by some of its proponents. Of course, the expansion assumes that 22 million people will take up smoking to pay the increased cigarette taxes required to fund the program. Of course, when that predictably does not happen, we taxpayers will have to make up the difference – again.

Finally, a local matter. Has anyone heard when Fire Station No. 6 may be up and running again? The snow storm of a few weeks back damaged the roof covering the engine bay. I’ve noticed that the station has been closed since the storm – and within the last week a chain-link fence appeared around the building.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

The TARP/Stimulus Debacle Writ Small

After engaging in this tête-à-tête last week concerning the former Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia’s hastily withdrawn lawsuit (scroll down to the comments), it occurred to me that the group’s argument is, in essence, a state-level version of the national one over the various pork and bailout packages recently rammed through Congress by the progressive left.

The collective response of the Feds to our current “crisis” has been to double down on the insane ideas, which originated with those same Feds, that touched off this economic conflagration: more easy credit for those who manifestly cannot afford their mortgages, artificially propping up house prices (that should be allowed to fall), bailing out failed businesses left and right (rather than let them go into bankruptcy and emerge as stronger companies as they should), and generally spending money like there is no tomorrow. In other words, keep doing the same things that got us into this mess to begin with, only more so.

As an aside, to my thinking all of this been done for political ends, not economic ones, and done so courtesy of my tax dollars (not to mention borrowing and/or printing more dollars – neither of which are sustainable strategies in the long run) and none of it has worked worth a damn.

At the local and state levels, the venue-shopping CASFG, currently in the process of reinventing itself as the Georgia School Funding Association in an attempt to sidestep that recent opinion from the Attorney General’s office, is making much the same argument (at least in a conceptual sense). What we’ve been doing for years, namely increasing local and state (and federal) spending on education, has resulted in no demonstrable increase in student achievement (the Clarke County School District serves as a perfect example of this failed approach). So, naturally, the proper course of action is to do more of the same – especially if we can do it with other peoples’ money.

For the umpteenth time, I resent the heck out of my 20 mills in Clarke County Board of Education property taxes (not including those tens of millions of dollars in bonded indebtedness) going to fund a group whose constituent school systems charge their own citizens an average of 14.482 mills (and as little as 3.663 mills), the intent of which is to litigate the state into giving its members even more of my tax money.

One last thing – the CASFG web site used to include a list of its constituent school systems. If such a list is currently available on the site, I could not find it. I strongly suspect that it was taken down because folks like me used that list to run the numbers on the millage rates and per pupil expenditures of the Consortium’s members, finding that the entire thing amounts to nothing more than a money-grubbing shell game.

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