To the Editor:
I have to tip my sweat-stained Alexandria Aces baseball cap to the city manager. He hit one out of the park by persuading our Imperial Rulers (aka city council) that the people they rule should have a voice in how their tax money is spent.
To enable taxpayers to play Budget Ball, he published a series of questions on the city website. The answers purportedly will reveal to budget-makers what we the people want our city to provide. What he achieved was refreshing frankly, and it wasn’t easy either. Our Rulers, all Democrats, were and remain skeptical of letting garden variety taxpayers onto their playing field
Doing so, the Rulers complain, will complicate the time-critical budget process. Moreover, because there will be winners and losers, disappointment is guaranteed. Frankly, the Rulers have a point. The budget making process is arcane and time consuming even if it does involve real money made available by taxpayers large and small. But there is a way for taxpayers to play Budget Ball. It merely requires better questions.
The questions the city manager posited are akin to asking if water is wet. Instead, bundle those fluff ball questions into a preamble that makes clear the city government is our servant. It exists to provide us basic services, namely public safety, education and infrastructure. With that declaration out of the way, hard hitting questions can follow the answers to which could actually have a budget impact.
For example, the first one should be to select from a series of choices a Do Not Exceed level of spending beyond which taxpayer approval is required. This question will cause our Rulers to howl and their handlers, the Democratic Party of Alexandria, to squeal, but without a dollar limit above which a referendum is necessary, then we taxpayers risk having the Rulers use our money to impose their vision. Think waterfront, police palace, Jefferson Houston, et al
Other telling questions could be to select eight proposed expenditures from a list of 10. The results would reveal to the budget makers what’s important to taxpayers. Or choose between using contractors who receive a fixed fee for service or using for the same service city employees each of whom receive taxpayer funded benefits and retirement stipends for life. Or should the libraries be made self-sustaining non-profits? Or should the city use our money to own and operate businesses? And so forth. You get the idea. Let’s play real Budget Ball; not fluff ball. It’s our money after all.