Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Grover DeSantis redux

Previously I have looked at Mark DeSantis the person, or at least DeSantis the republican. Then the PG did it too, on Sunday, and much better than I could.

Now I want to take a look at a specific part of Dr DeSantis' economic recovery plan for the city, his proposed spending cap. I realize this is supposed to be an example of both “out of the box” thinking and his commitment to fiscal responsibility. A lot of people (or maybe one guy in a lot of places) are bringing up Grover Norquist, and also Colorado, in reference to this cap, and I can see why. There is some similarity in the barebones description of the two spending caps, a formula based on the rate of inflation plus population growth. The Colorado spending cap was set up as a constitutional amendment, and the DeSantis spending cap is proposed as a change to the Home Rule Charter. I’m actually not sure how you amend the home rule charter (and I’m too lazy/busy to look), but the Colorado spending cap required a statewide popular vote to be changed. Interestingly, that’s just what happened in 2005 to the 1992 law, a popular vote suspended it for five years.

There are differences between states and cities, and the kinds of things they have to pay for. So a spending cap would have a different meaning for a city compared to states. But both have to worry about health care spending, for example, and that has consistently grown faster than the inflation rate. Now, I have just started to look at this, and I will admit to being both intrigued and concerned. Pretty much isn’t the city budget supposed to be balanced? Obviously, somewhere along the line we fell down on that, or we wouldn’t be financially distressed and in debt and having under-funded pensions. So the DeSantis cap would be supposed to protect future generations from future free-wheeling spending.

As I say, I am just starting to look at this. I want to take a look at spending caps used by other cities and counties. I have heard some hints that they use different formulas. But just off the top of my head I could propose an alternative amendment to the home rule charter. Instead of capping spending at a certain rate, I would suggest that every time the Mayor proposes and the city council passes a budget with more spending than revenue coming in, the Mayor would have to pay a penalty of 1% of his (or her) salary, and city council would have to pay a penalty too (1%? .5%?). This way, if a Mayor really felt the need to spend out of balance, and could really convince a majority of council of that need, he or she could do it. But the Mayor would have a good incentive not to casually spend past tax revenues.

Is my idea too silly for the adult world? Perhaps. And I take comfort in the idea that the DeSantis plan would I guess have to be voted on the city. It's too bad that it does resemble the Colorado plan as much as it does. If DeSantis gets elected, maybe some variant can be proposed that would be more acceptable to all. Meanwhile I will have to come back to this in the near future.

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