Whitewater, Wisconsin’s Next Municipal Budget

Whitewater voted on its 2011 budget this week, and there were no surprises. The city lacks a majority of incumbents willing to cut spending, on a budget of over nine million. (Quick note: a local paper has reported that Whitewater’s tax levy is nine million; that’s incorrect. The budget is nine million, a portion of which is the levy, with another large portion coming from other revenues. That is, of course, part of Whitewater’s long-term problem — those other revenues are uncertain.)

Among the suggestions for cuts, even simple suggestions were beyond a majority’s assent. Under those circumstances, a reduction in personnel was even less likely. There’s a lot of effective, but still summer-stock, acting in Whitewater, with much fuss that a single personnel cut is a transgression against humanity. One would think that a bum had tracked mud into the Sistine Chapel. It carries the day, but it’s dumb show, all the same. (I would advocate cutting more than one position, starting near the top.)

One should not doubt that some positions, although of uncertain type and department, are sure to be cut in the years ahead. (I would advocate cutting leaders now, but it’s most likely that Whitewater will cut field workers in the years ahead.)

There’s a funny contention that without an increase in the levy (only a portion of the budget) that Whitewater would not be able to maintain its quality of services. It’s just silly, and presupposes a level of current need and efficiency that few believe exists in Whitewater. This is, though, a status quo town, and anything that avoids hard choices now (over harder realities tomorrow) will carry the day.

Worse, of course, is that this multi-million dollar budget ignores the real difficulties of ordinary people. It’s a satisfied person’s budget.

Who believes, for example, that quality of life in Whitewater truly depends on an increase in taxes, to feed local government? Who, when he wakes, looks out the window, and cries: Thank you, Dear God, for the municipal government that assures our well-being? When most people consider what matters most in life, they think of private, not public, things. There’s a bureaucrat’s vanity in supposing that a municipal government is — in whatever size that it seeks to be — the wellspring of the quality of life. These men and women talk as though a percentage point less in spending would be a loss not only of expenditure, but to the very future of all living things within the city limits.

To exaggerate the need for local government isn’t a grand mistake, but simply grandiose.

Consider this observation, from a post at Reason that Nick Gillespie wrote, about federal spending:

….when you look at the 60 percent increase in total federal outlays (in constant 2010 dollars or 104 percent in 2000 dollars) since Bill Clinton left office, the real question becomes: How the hell did we ever get by as a country without all that extra crap that’s been around for a decade or less? My memory is fading, but in the surplus year of 2000, didn’t we all live in old washing-machine boxes and prepare holiday dinners by cutting pictures of food out of grocery-store circulars? Sure, we were poor (by which I mean unprecedentedly wealthy) but at least we had each other (by which I mean the Internets).

No wonder that the good war-happy people at AEI are bitching and moaning that we oughta crank up defense spending from its puny 4.9 percent of GDP to an Eisenhowerian 10+ percent? More guns, less butter! Then there’s John Podesta, former Clinton admin chief of staff and now head of the liberal Center for American Progress, fretting that trimming $255 billion from a 2015 budget coming in at over $4 trillion would “do lasting harm to the health of the American middle class.” More butter (or cholesterol-free equivalent) and about the same amount of guns!

Some who advocate for the status quo believe it a good option; others are probably hoping to get out of town before the futility of current efforts is undeniable.

Whitewater’s reaching the very limits of rhetoric. (For many, who do not feel the benefits of a bureaucrat’s budget, those limits were passed long ago.)

There’s no rhetorical settlement in any of this; what will matter is what happens five or ten years from now.

Our old business park is a perfect example. When built, like all new things, there was so very much promise and hope. Now, years later, no one thinks that way — it’s a park all right, with lots of vacant land. No one bothers to trumpet it now — it’s middling condition belies proud claims of success. There’s now a new, next big thing.

Expect more, not less, of how the municipal administration has to ‘get its story out,’ or ‘communicate better,’ or develop a ‘good PR’ story.

(You know, and I know, too, that there’s a way in which some think that if there were no criticism, there would be no problems. For those who believe this way, there’s no convincing otherwise. Although they dislike the remarks of others, they adore their own statements. It’s as though, when they see their own words on newsprint, no matter how improbable or silly their claims, they’re sure they’re looking at the natural laws of the known universe.)

It’s lack of good policy, not a lack of public relations, that’s killed real prosperity in our small town.