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Anti-Tax Voters Darken Colorado Springs
February 1, 2010 11:18 PM   Subscribe

After a ballot measure to raise property taxes in Colorado Springs was overwhelmingly defeated, tax opponents called for the city to shrink the government. The City of Colorado Springs now plans to make deep cuts to basic services, including parks, police, and even the street lights.
posted by chrchr (332 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Civilization costs money. How this continues to elude some is beyond me.
posted by trondant at 11:23 PM on February 1, 2010 [98 favorites]


It makes me laugh, the stupidity of "fiscal conservatives" to have a long-range view of anything. One would think that these deep cuts to services will only result in a city so totally unpleasant, unsafe and unliveable that the negative effect on the value of homes alone would cost citizens much more than what the tax increase would have. I hope everyone keeps their eyes on this situation over the next year or so, it'll be a good lesson.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:30 PM on February 1, 2010 [44 favorites]


Ted Haggard must be happy they're shutting down the vice squad.
posted by birdherder at 11:31 PM on February 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


Previously, voters in the State of Oregon approved an income and corporate tax hike.
posted by chrchr at 11:31 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like parks and police, but it's always been a mystery to me why street lights have so many proponents. I like to be able to see the stars, and not have my night vision destroyed by overly bright lights when I'm walking at night. I'll take the reduced taxes and energy savings over the illusion of safety.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:35 PM on February 1, 2010 [15 favorites]


a city so totally unpleasant, unsafe and unliveable...

Which forces the citizenry to stay home and focus on their family! James Dobson!
posted by mullacc at 11:36 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


mullacc you're wrong. They move somewhere else and complaign about taxes there. Like locusts. They never ever see the error of their ways.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 11:39 PM on February 1, 2010 [17 favorites]


So this is how McCarthy's "The Road" all started...got it!
posted by hal_c_on at 11:41 PM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


ne would think that these deep cuts to services will only result in a city so totally unpleasant, unsafe and unliveable that the negative effect on the value of homes alone would cost citizens much more than what the tax increase would have.

Oh, but you don't understand. Colorado Springs has been claimed for Jesus, and has people walking its streets constantly anointing it for God's purposes. I wish I were making this up. Spiritual warfare, prayer walking, spiritual mapping... it has a lot of names, but it seems to have sprung up through the New Life Church.
posted by hippybear at 11:43 PM on February 1, 2010


YOU CAN'T CUT BACK ON FUNDING! YOU WILL REGRET THIS!
posted by CheshireCat at 11:45 PM on February 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


It doesn't sound like they're being even remotely wasteful, and they weren't asking for very much money.

I think they might have had more luck if they'd made it a temporary bill, on the theory that sales tax revenue might increase again. Were I a homeowner there, that'd be my worry... a permanent tax increase on my property that wouldn't go away even when sales taxes went back up. My willingness to support basic services now might be turned into de facto permission to expand services later in areas that I had no input on.

With a sunset clause, I'd have voted for it, but without, I might not have.
posted by Malor at 11:45 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


One would think that these deep cuts to services will only result in a city so totally unpleasant, unsafe and unliveable that the negative effect on the value of homes alone would cost citizens much more than what the tax increase would have.

Sure, this may very well happen. At which point -- just like in California, which has been steadily falling apart ever since Prop 13 -- they'll just blame immigrants or some other scapegoat.
posted by scody at 11:47 PM on February 1, 2010 [28 favorites]


Ah well. A penny saved is a coyote mauling in the dark earned.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:49 PM on February 1, 2010 [78 favorites]


"the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each."
posted by Damienmce at 11:51 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


California's problem is that voters can spend money directly with a 51% majority, but the Legislature's ability to levy taxes to cover that spending has been crippled. Without being able to tax, they were forced to borrow to fund all the services that voters required of them. Thirty years of that, and they've essentially bled to death.

The big lesson from California is that if you make it hard to raise revenue, you have to make it equally difficult to spend it. Maybe harder, because spending is always more popular than taxation.
posted by Malor at 11:53 PM on February 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


It's every man for himself, by god!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:03 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I, ME, ME, MINE!
posted by caddis at 12:06 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Apparently the people of Colorado Springs felt that the recession wasn't personal enough.
posted by fatbird at 12:09 AM on February 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


Tak's influence is intensifying.
posted by invitapriore at 12:24 AM on February 2, 2010


I also find it hilarious that the government holds the "basic services" as hostages to any budget shortfall. Fiscal conservatives are aiming for the too-generous pay and pensions of the government workers, but the government workers ensure that the libraries are shuttered and roads unpaved before they let go of their Ferrari-level benefits.

You fiscal non-conservatives are so naive.
posted by FuManchu at 12:29 AM on February 2, 2010 [13 favorites]


Think of the robots!
posted by humannaire at 12:29 AM on February 2, 2010


We're experiencing some of the same here in AZ because of the budget crisis as a result of horrible governance by the Republican-controlled state legislature and their war on taxes.

Among many of the services being cut, several of the State Parks are being shut down, including some of the nicest areas in the state.

Consider the Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains.
"...the state's eighth most popular park and the closest to the East Valley, lost $9,545 in fiscal year 2008-2009...

But Stephen Filipowicz, Apache Junction's economic development director, said the Arizona State Parks Department estimates that Lost Dutchman generates $4 million a year in tourism revenues each year."
So while the park costs the state $10k to operate, it brings in $4 million in tourist revenue to the surrounding community. But because it didn't break even on its operating expenses, the tax-obsessed clown posse at the state lege is shutting the park down.

I swear. The sheer lunacy in this kind of thinking is so surreal. Not only are they shutting down a beautiful state park that provides entertainment and recreation for tens of thousands of people in the state in order to save $10k in operating expenses, they are throwing away millions of dollars in tourist revenue in the process. This is the party of fiscal responsibility at work in our state.
posted by darkstar at 12:42 AM on February 2, 2010 [56 favorites]


It reminds me of the Republican flunky that was sitting on the steps of the satellite branch of the city library the other day, wanting me to sign a petition to have our property taxes reduced.

I declined, pointing out how ironic it was that he was trying to eliminate the source of funding for the very library he was sitting in front of, and which I and dozens of his neighbors and their children were enjoying that morning.
posted by darkstar at 12:47 AM on February 2, 2010 [19 favorites]


I also find it hilarious that the government holds the "basic services" as hostages to any budget shortfall.

You know, I should have thought of and mentioned that as a possibility. Selfless bureaucrats cut the fat first, and they tend not to prosper over the long term in government, because their departments shrink to the minimum possible size. They tend not to do well, because raises and promotions are almost always based on the size of the department they've been running. The people that are good at actually removing waste from the system are directly penalized for doing so, and are less likely to be promoted into larger departments.

Smart, successful bureaucrats, when asked to cut their departments, will always cut essential services first, and hold back as much of the waste as possible. Why? Because it makes the cuts as painful as possible to the rest of the organization, which means they're more likely to have their budgets maintained and their tiny fiefdoms continued. Their departments stay larger, so they're paid more, and are considered better prospects for promotions into even bigger departments.

This happens in private industry too, but there are limits to how wasteful a non-monopoly organization can be. Eventually, mismanagement will kill a private company, but government-funded bureaucracies can get enormously more dysfunctional before failing.

It's entirely possible that they're cutting police and fire while maintaining things that aren't even vaguely essential. The voters of Colorado Springs may be smarter than you're giving them credit for.

They may also be a bunch of idiots, but without access to at least a good overview of where money is being spent in that city's government, there's no real way to tell.
posted by Malor at 12:51 AM on February 2, 2010 [49 favorites]


Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.

I don't think the state government is allowed to hire illegal immigrants.
posted by dirigibleman at 1:24 AM on February 2, 2010 [44 favorites]


I also find it hilarious that the government holds the "basic services" as hostages to any budget shortfall. Fiscal conservatives are aiming for the too-generous pay and pensions of the government workers, but the government workers ensure that the libraries are shuttered and roads unpaved before they let go of their Ferrari-level benefits.

Before this sets down too many roots, I'd just like to point out that the only source for the "Ferrari-level" numbers is the Luxury Resort executive who gives no details about what jobs he is averaging together or what costs are being added into the $89,000 figure. Is this all in salary or are we talking about workers comp, office space, future pension, etc?

That aside, clearly the solution to bad public administration is paying less for said administrators. I'm sure this will attract the right people to fill those positions, especially if we can knock the salaries down to be on par with grocery store employees.
posted by uri at 1:33 AM on February 2, 2010 [21 favorites]


Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin...

should be forced to live on a street without street lights. And if his luxury home should catch on fire? Heh heh. Maybe he can call one of his employees to put it out.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:36 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Broadmoor luxury resort
Broadmoor is a bit of an unfortunate name - shared with the UK's best-known high-security psychiatric unit, where we keep some of our worst sociopaths and people who use phrases like 'Ferrari-level benefits' in anything other than jest.
posted by Abiezer at 1:47 AM on February 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


Meh. Let 'em. I'm all for turning Colorado Springs into an evangelical-objectivist enclave, as long as we're prepared to set up refugee camps on the Front Range to deal with next generation's inevitable crisis. No, wait, better, a "security barrier". That way Tancredo can finally get his border wall. It'll just be on the Douglas County line, is all.
posted by Vetinari at 1:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Street lights...pfft. Socialist collectivist nonsense. Street lights were invented by liberals 50 years ago. Before that everyone saw by the light of the LORD!
posted by telstar at 2:27 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


So in Colorado Springs, a pit will never become a park?
posted by i_cola at 3:12 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like parks and police, but it's always been a mystery to me why street lights have so many proponents.

It's been an equal mystery to me why more people don't like car accidents. Bit of noise, fun, reminder of your incipient mortality. Why do people want to reduce these things through street lights, speed limits, road upgrades?

The difference between $24 000 and $89 000 can be summarised by the following:

Undergraduate degree
Masters degree
Qualified workers
401k
Health Insurance
Responsibility
Employee resources, from pencils to cars where appropriate.

My doctor earns more than $24 000 a year. May it ever be the case.
posted by smoke at 3:34 AM on February 2, 2010 [27 favorites]


It's been an equal mystery to me why more people don't like car accidents. Bit of noise, fun, reminder of your incipient mortality. Why do people want to reduce these things through street lights, speed limits, road upgrades?

I'm a tax-and-spend liberal, but that's malarky. Cars have headlamps. There's ten times as many streetlights as neccessary and they're too bright and light up the wrong areas. They make it impossible to adjust to the dark and make it neccessary to add even more streetlights, because the moment you wiz past one — which is often lighting up your face, the surrounding houses, the sky — you need another or you go night-blind. They waste electricity and make it impossible to see the stars.
posted by floam at 3:50 AM on February 2, 2010 [18 favorites]


I like parks and police, but it's always been a mystery to me why street lights have so many proponents.

Atlas Mugged.
posted by srboisvert at 3:57 AM on February 2, 2010 [39 favorites]


At which point -- just like in California, which has been steadily falling apart ever since Prop 13 -- they'll just blame immigrants or some other scapegoat.

In MA, where this kind of thing happens in multiple communities every year because local property taxes are subject to Proposition 2-1/2, the favorite scapegoat is unionized town employees. For a taste of it, see Fu Manchu, above. Usually there's a lot more profanity, though.

Many of the union-bashers never seem to get that the reason their own situation is so lousy is not because some other group of workers was smart enough to band together and take some control of their working life, but because they themselves are too short-sighted to do so. Usually they throw up some argument like "non-union workers in the private sector don't get that kind of benefits," as though that were not an argument for more unionization.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [26 favorites]


And if his luxury home should catch on fire? Heh heh. Maybe he can call one of his employees to put it out.

This is called the "trickle-down effect".
posted by WPW at 4:04 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do people want to reduce these things through street lights, speed limits, road upgrades?

Road upgrades, sure. Speed limits for neighborhood roads. Not highways. And street lights? You've got them already attached to the front of your car. Isn't that convenient?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:12 AM on February 2, 2010


Egads. Maybe I should reconsider that job offer in CoS. What a clusterfuck. Feel free to tell me it's going to be okay, and that this sort of lunacy is an aberration.


Guys?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:14 AM on February 2, 2010


I've observed that municipalities tend to pile on the government and services in response to demographic diversity. Inner-ring suburbs have huge, corrupt city governments, with obtrusive and variously inept services (with the exception of the libraries, which for some reason are always better in the inner ring suburbs). The demographically homogenous inner city and outer suburbs seem comfortable with a minimum of police, fire, garbage and snow-plowing.
posted by Faze at 4:17 AM on February 2, 2010


I also find it hilarious that the government holds the "basic services" as hostages to any budget shortfall. Fiscal conservatives are aiming for the too-generous pay and pensions of the government workers, but the government workers ensure that the libraries are shuttered and roads unpaved before they let go of their Ferrari-level benefits.

You fiscal non-conservatives are so naive


This.

Plus, how many of you have ever been there??? They must have a freaking huge tax base with all those big houses on Cheyenne Mountain.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:29 AM on February 2, 2010


Many of the union-bashers never seem to get that the reason their own situation is so lousy is not because some other group of workers was smart enough to band together and take some control of their working life, but because they themselves are too short-sighted to do so. Usually they throw up some argument like "non-union workers in the private sector don't get that kind of benefits," as though that were not an argument for more unionization.

This is the argument I hear from my friend who pulls down 80k selling stamps and money orders.

Union membership has been declining for generations. When people have a choice, they prefer Wal-Mart's low prices to Union-Marts comprehensive benefits. Sad, but true.

Why has it been increasing in government? And why should the taxpayers support this with their tax dollars when they absolutely do not with their private dollars?
posted by three blind mice at 4:35 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like parks and police, but it's always been a mystery to me why street lights have so many proponents. I like to be able to see the stars, and not have my night vision destroyed by overly bright lights when I'm walking at night. I'll take the reduced taxes and energy savings over the illusion of safety.

I had to read this a few times, and even now I'm not sure if this is just well-written trolling. Take away street lights? Are you kidding? Ever been in a city, at night, that had no street lights? I took a sketchy taxi in New Delhi one time, and he dumped me in a sketchy part of the city with no street lights and it's not a place I'd ever want to visit again (at night).

There are ways to reduce light pollution; well-designed lights that shine down only, and use less wattage as a result. But trust me, street lights are a good thing.
posted by zardoz at 4:37 AM on February 2, 2010 [13 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient: "And street lights? You've got them already attached to the front of your car. Isn't that convenient?"

but that heavy car battery kind of hurts my back when I take a walk or a bike ride after dark
posted by idiopath at 4:38 AM on February 2, 2010 [33 favorites]


Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

Good.
posted by pracowity at 4:43 AM on February 2, 2010


While better street lightning may not reduce crime, it makes residents less fearful.
posted by drezdn at 4:47 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

-- H.L. Mencken

That said, I approve of the service cuts in the wake of the ballot outcome. Governments shouldn't allow the old to burden the young with their incompetence and greed which is what happens when they borrow to meet operational rather than capital expenses.
posted by atrazine at 4:49 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


A good way for councils and governments to cut back on spending is to fire those people in the call centre who answer the telephones to listen to the insane ravings of fuckwit constituents dribbling their inane demands. Soon as one of them gets his dick stuck in a goat you can bet your balls they'll be on the blower demanding the fire brigade.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:50 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does a city of 400,000 really need 3 helicopters? 6 greenhouses?
Can't water the medians? Good, maybe you can plant some natives that actually belong there.

Some of these cuts seem perfectly ok to me.
It's unfortunate that, in so many of these types of situatons, the two sides resort to the same old time-worn tactics.

The bureaucrats threaten the fire and police and ignore their own fiscal house, while the anti-taxers focus on short-term costs without looking at long-term benefits.
posted by madajb at 4:51 AM on February 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


So, how long until Colorado Springs becomes the setting for Fallout 4? To be honest, my empathy is running a bit low this morning, and I think it'd actually be kind of cool to see what Ted Haggard's megachurch would look like, post-fiscal-apocalypse. Plus, all the raiders will be Randroids. Isn't that going to be fascinating?
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:52 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


While better street lightning may not reduce crime, it makes residents less fearful.

Yeah I used to get fully freaked out at night when I was standing around on my mugging corner, but then they put in some great cast-iron stuff and now I pretend I am the Gaslight Bandit. "What ho!" you will hear me say as I pounce at you from the shrubbery. Sometimes I mug a person and pretend to be confused. "What is the confounded contraption? The devil's work!" I below as I pointlessly smash your iPhone to pieces. Then I knife your shopping and scamper away to the nearest ale house.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:54 AM on February 2, 2010 [21 favorites]


I find it a little shocking that the mayor and city council jobs in Colorado Springs are part-time and only pay $6,250/yr. It's a big city, hard to believe that it could be run well by a part-time government.
posted by octothorpe at 4:55 AM on February 2, 2010


Oh and street lighting helps me not kill myself tripping over broken pavement walking home in the dark. Did you want everyone to wear a mining helmet or maybe IR goggles?
posted by octothorpe at 4:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are you kidding? Ever been in a city, at night, that had no street lights?

I've never been to Colorado Springs (though I may have driven through it) but judging from the satellite images, it looks like a big collection of suburban sprawl.
The kind of place where every cul-de-sac has a street-light and they are placed every 75 feet regardless of need.
Street-lights are appropriate in some situations, but being able to read a book while walking down Whippoorwill Lane isn't one of them.
posted by madajb at 4:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


IR goggles are badass but useless for depth perception, so you'd need to put a pair of 3D glasses on over the top of them.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:59 AM on February 2, 2010


One would think that these deep cuts to services will only result in a city so totally unpleasant, unsafe and unliveable that the negative effect on the value of homes alone would cost citizens much more than what the tax increase would have.

But, then, private industry will step in and provide all of those services that failed under the inefficient bureaucracy of oppressive government. The free market will swoop-in and amaze the good people of Colorado Springs with bountiful choices and efficient services!

For roughly 15-20% more than what people paid for the same services through their taxes. But, they won't be paying taxes. And that's the important part.

Tea, anyone?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:07 AM on February 2, 2010 [20 favorites]


Sounds they their employee compensation packages are a major cost, and they are cutting basic city services in a punitive manner. "SEE I TOLD YOU IT WOULD SUCK"

Government loves to grow. Why can't they ever make do with the tax rates of last decade?
posted by colinshark at 5:14 AM on February 2, 2010


And why should the taxpayers support this with their tax dollars when they absolutely do not with their private dollars?

Because stupid people, like little children, usually don't see the larger ramifications of their actions or inactions until it's too late. But the solution isn't, "Let your child stick their fingers in the electrical socket." You have to tell them because I said so and just hope they learn how things work before they're out on their own and don't have you around to protect them.

I like to call it forced beneficence.

I can see why the ignorant wouldn't like being reminded of their inadequacies by being told something is for their own good when they're too stupid to understand the reasons why; unfortunately the only other option is to let the morons inherit the earth and ruin the civilization the cleverer people have been working so long and hard to build. Now, maybe you don't mind opening the doors to the barbarians, if just to be able to say, "SEE! I told you so, you fucking idiots!" But that doesn't really help you when they're raping and eating your children, does it?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:16 AM on February 2, 2010 [20 favorites]


I'd love to see the quality of the firefighters and police officers they would get with a median salary of 24k. Maybe they'll make some extra cash by selling dash cam footage as scenes for a new Keystone Kops movie.
posted by borkencode at 5:27 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see the quality of the firefighters and police officers they would get with a median salary of 24k.

There are lots of small communities (and a surprising number of large ones) that have an all or partial volunteer fire department.

Professionalism is not correlated with pay.
posted by madajb at 5:33 AM on February 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


I find it a little shocking that the mayor and city council jobs in Colorado Springs are part-time and only pay $6,250/yr. It's a big city, hard to believe that it could be run well by a part-time government.

I believe Colorado Springs is one of those "city manager" towns, where the mayor and city council are essentially a board of directors that hire a CEO. So the elected positions are essentially volunteer, while the appointed position makes quite a sum of money. This is supposed to prevent graft, for some reason?
posted by muddgirl at 5:36 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are ways to reduce light pollution; well-designed lights that shine down only, and use less wattage as a result. But trust me, street lights are a good thing.

Sure, but they said "More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday." That sounds like a pretty good start if they're fairly evenly spaced. When they replace lights, they can install fixtures that shine all of the light down (not sideways or up as waste energy and light pollution).

Having 0 percent of the necessary lighting is stupid, but so is having 500 percent, especially when most of it shines into nothingness, not on to the thing you want to illuminate.
posted by pracowity at 5:44 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you've got a city without street lights, where in the hell is Frank Sinatra gonna sing? What, he's supposed to stand under a tree or something?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:45 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sounds they their employee compensation packages are a major cost, and they are cutting basic city services in a punitive manner.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Watch--when the little fiscal machete-wielders get what they want and Colorado Springs is a hellhole lacking the basic amenities of civilization, they will stand on their unlit streets, curse the darkness, and blame THE MAN for punishing them.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:46 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sure, all of these services could continue, but at what cost?

Colorado Springs population: 380,300
Budget shortfall: $27,600,000

27,600,000/380,300= $72.57

That's an average of $72.57 PER PERSON, PER YEAR. Over six dollars per month!

Do you people realize that Colorado Springs residents can already expect to spend almost $79 dollars a YEAR in property taxes if they own a $200,000 home (.xls chart)?

You guys clearly don't understand how liberals have been deliberately taking money away from the residents of Colorado Springs for bullshit like roads, firefighters, and parks. Kudos to the voters for heaving the oppressive yoke of "civilization" from their leathery, overtaxed backs.
posted by Benjy at 5:52 AM on February 2, 2010 [96 favorites]


I think it's great! Show the anti taxers exactly what smaller gummint looks like. If Colorado Springs wanted to get real serious they would stop garbage collection as well.

Plus trim some excess fat, here in Illinois we have a town, Winthrop Harbor, pop. of roughly 7k, with its own SWAT TEAM. There is some good old fashioned excessive spending right there.
posted by Max Power at 5:55 AM on February 2, 2010


So the elected positions are essentially volunteer, while the appointed position makes quite a sum of money.

City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft is the highest-paid employee, at a base pay of $210,000 this year.
posted by madajb at 5:56 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's been an equal mystery to me why more people don't like car accidents. Bit of noise, fun, reminder of your incipient mortality. Why do people want to reduce these things through street lights, speed limits, road upgrades?
Have any evidence that streetlights reduce accidents? I usually put my headlights on when I drive at night.
I took a sketchy taxi in New Delhi one time, and he dumped me in a sketchy part of the city with no street lights and it's not a place I'd ever want to visit again (at night).
So your argument against the idea that streetlights are only there to make scared people feel safe is that one time you were in an area without streetlights and you were scared? But nothing happened?

What exactly do you think streetlights would have done to keep you safe? It's just as easy to mug someone under streetlights as it is in the dark. "I'm scared and I need a nightlight!" is not an actual argument.
but that heavy car battery kind of hurts my back when I take a walk or a bike ride after dark
First of all, there are plenty of bike lights. Second of all, have you ever actually walked around at night with no streetlights? You actually can see. Not as well as in daylight but well enough to avoid cracks or stop yourself for running into trees.
posted by delmoi at 5:56 AM on February 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Just to clarify, coming from a guy who runs a business, a statement like "the city spends $89,000 per employee and I only spend $24,000" would certainly include every expense associated with the employee, incl. benefits. So we're talking about people whose total expense to the company - not just salary - is about $500 per week. That's nothing. I guarantee that most of these workers have no paid vacation and no health benefits. Some have benefits through a spouse or relative, but others - when they get sick, the public foots the bill. So that employee may only cost Mr. Moneybags $500 per week (note that this is not take-home pay, this includes employer contribution to payroll taxes like Medicare and Social Security), but this same employee is costing the rest of the taxpayers a shitload because this asshat won't pay them a living wage or benefits, and has the balls to brag about it in the newspapers. So, you know, fuck this dude.

Now if you think that $89,000 per employee sounds like a lot of money, first consider that the actual salary component of that is probably 50-60% of the figure. A large portion of that is the "Ferrari benefits" some troglodyte mentioned upthread. Also consider that school teachers, police officers, etc. are all most likely city employees. I would guess that total costs per police officer are out of proportion with their salaries - they need equipment, training, vehicles, and probably have expensive insurance premiums. So if you think the city employees are rolling in it at $89,000 of total annual expense per capita, I urge you to reconsider your position.
posted by Mister_A at 5:56 AM on February 2, 2010 [65 favorites]


And why should the taxpayers support this with their tax dollars when they absolutely do not with their private dollars?

Because that is the whole point of tax.
posted by ninebelow at 5:57 AM on February 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


When they replace lights, they can install fixtures that shine all of the light down (not sideways or up as waste energy and light pollution).

With, I ask, what money will they replace these lights?
posted by eriko at 5:57 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are lots of small communities (and a surprising number of large ones) that have an all or partial volunteer fire department.

Professionalism is not correlated with pay.


Volunteer firefighters are some of the finest people I know, but that wasn't much comfort when I called them about a house fire at a neighbor's house and it took around half an hour for enough crew to arrive. They did a good job once they got there, but the fact of the matter is that unless there's a small crew at the station response time is going to be lessened.
posted by Benjy at 6:01 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wonder how many of those cops just voted themselves out of a job too.
posted by Max Power at 6:01 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Professionalism is not correlated with pay.

So there's no relationship between pay and professionalism? I think you meant to say, low pay or volunteer doesn't necessarily mean unprofessional. I'm assuming, because what you did say makes no sense.
posted by malphigian at 6:04 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll take the reduced taxes and energy savings over the illusion of safety.

In my neighborhood, the safety afforded by lit streets is no illusion, but do enjoy your star-gazing.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:12 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Colorado Springs Given Enough Rope, News at 11.
posted by The Whelk at 6:12 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Jesus is the light of the world! Who needs streetlights?
posted by pecknpah at 6:12 AM on February 2, 2010


Do you people realize that Colorado Springs residents can already expect to spend almost $79 dollars a YEAR in property taxes if they own a $200,000 home

Holy crap, I literally pay 17 times what they pay in taxes, and I don't think I'm getting a bad deal.
posted by electroboy at 6:13 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft

Liar. This is not a real name, it is from a broadly satirical novel.

Right?
posted by The Whelk at 6:14 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


where in the hell is Frank Sinatra gonna sing?

He can't very well shake down the stars or have moments in the moonlight, can't enjoy the pale moon or luna rossa or stardust or Stella by starlight, if he can't see anything but the damned street lights and can't hear anything but the bloody lamplighter's serenade. There's nothing enchanting about an evening under sodium lights.
posted by pracowity at 6:15 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Professionalism is not correlated with pay.

In contrast, it is very strongly correlated for any sort of emergency response organization, in my experience. Well-funded organizations can afford training and can keep good people and maintain infrastructure. Poorly-funded organizations loose their best, most knowledgeable people very fast and have to deal with decrepit equipment. The volunteers may be willing, but they're generally untrained and under-equipped.

I've been to incidents with well-maintained response organizations and with very poorly maintained ones. There's really no comparison.
posted by bonehead at 6:15 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I used to love playing SimCity 2000. It was the last good SimCity game before Maxis decided that I also wanted to control the timing of stoplights, slope of sidewalk ramps, what species of grass a park had, etc.

One of the things I used to enjoy doing was using a cheat to get an absurd amount of money, lowering taxes to zero, and then pausing the game. I would then build a paradise on Earth, a wonderful utopia for my citizens. The second I unpaused the game, BAM! the place would fill up immediately and everyone would be deliriously happy.

But then their god turned on them. I would let disasters pummel them and fail to fix the consequences. Eventually there would be huge swaths of the city with no electricity or water. Paved roads were a fond memory to the inhabitants. Fires and monsters would rage through the place unchecked for decades. Naturally, this would result in most everyone beating feet out of my city, but there was always a small percentage who stayed. Nothing seemed to make them budge.

Until I raised taxes from 0% to 1%. At that point, they’d had enough and would scram. The fires, potholes, darkness, crime, and monsters weren’t a problem but 1% taxes were an abomination up with which they would simply not put.

What SimCity 2000 was simulating there was Republicans.
posted by Legomancer at 6:19 AM on February 2, 2010 [247 favorites]


I also find it hilarious that the government holds the "basic services" as hostages to any budget shortfall. Fiscal conservatives are aiming for the too-generous pay and pensions of the government workers, but the government workers ensure that the libraries are shuttered and roads unpaved before they let go of their Ferrari-level benefits.

Libraries being shuttered has a lot more to do with voters who think that any level of public services that requires money out of their pockets is inherently evil than it does with "government workers" and their "Ferrari-level benefits." I guess "Ferrari-level benefits" is the 2010 version of the "Cadillac-driving inner-city welfare moms" urban myth that was so popular in the 1980s.

This is the argument I hear from my friend who pulls down 80k selling stamps and money orders.

Ah, another version of the same myth: the universally overpaid, underutilized union parasite, draining away the lifeblood of society like a horrendous excrescent monster out of a Friedrich von Hayek nightmare.
posted by blucevalo at 6:21 AM on February 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


I would laugh and say that they are going to get the (lack of) services they deserve. But in reality, what will happen is that you will get a bifurcated (or even trifurcated) set of services -- crappy public fire protection, say, paralleled by spiffy private private fire stations in the fancy neighborhoods. It's overall more expensive than doing it the right way when you factor in externalities like people dying of heart attacks from long response times, but it can be individually cheaper for individual taxpayers.

And regarding streetlights, for those saying they are unnecessary, try living in an urban area without them. It's not pleasant, trust me.
posted by Forktine at 6:23 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well-funded organizations can afford training and can keep good people and maintain infrastructure. Poorly-funded organizations loose their best, most knowledgeable people very fast and have to deal with decrepit equipment.

I said nothing about funding.

I simply said that you can't make an assumption about the quality of firefighter based on what they are paid.
posted by madajb at 6:24 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You fiscal non-conservatives are so naive.

"Naive:" everyone should pay more for services.
"Fiscal conservative:" everyone else should pay more for services.

Yeah, I guess our vision really isn't too broad, is it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:27 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Amusingly, the biggest employers in that town are the military and military contractors. But big government is bad.
posted by octothorpe at 6:28 AM on February 2, 2010 [12 favorites]


I said nothing about funding.

I simply said that you can't make an assumption about the quality of firefighter based on what they are paid.


Which revolves around the money that that the department has.
posted by cavalier at 6:29 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


To paraphrase that infamouse anecdote:

"“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a First World or a Third World?”
“A First World, if you can keep it.”
posted by symbioid at 6:36 AM on February 2, 2010


damn mice getting in my infamy.
posted by symbioid at 6:36 AM on February 2, 2010


City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

Want to swim this summer? Build your own pool.

If you are a teenager with a job on the weekends saving up to buy your first car, you better plan on getting a job close enough to bike to work.

Pot holes playing merry hell with your car's steering and under carriage? Get yourself a horse!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:36 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


mccarty.tim: So, how long until Colorado Springs becomes the setting for Fallout 4? To be honest, my empathy is running a bit low this morning, and I think it'd actually be kind of cool to see what Ted Haggard's megachurch would look like, post-fiscal-apocalypse. Plus, all the raiders will be Randroids. Isn't that going to be fascinating?

What if I told you it already was?

of course the joke there is just that it's been turned into a big pit so it's not quite the same
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 6:37 AM on February 2, 2010


The humble street lamp.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:41 AM on February 2, 2010


I simply said that you can't make an assumption about the quality of firefighter based on what they are paid.

Yes, I can. I can, generally, assume that the quality of service provided by firefighters who are well-trained, well-equipped, and (for some value of "well") well-paid, will, not infrequently, be superior to the service provided by firefighters who are none of those things. This isn't an invariably true law of nature, but it is true so frequently that one can assume that it will be true unless a mass of evidence dictates otherwise.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:42 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


So a few years back my Mom's beau decided to show us Colorado Springs. So charmingly "Mountain." He had grown up there, but hadn't been back since the late 70s.

I'll never forget his look of shock, horror, and naked confusion when we arrived.
posted by The Whelk at 6:42 AM on February 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Have any evidence that streetlights reduce accidents? I usually put my headlights on when I drive at night.

Are you fucking serious?
posted by jckll at 6:44 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wait a minute. Are you seriously telling me their mill rate is 4 point fucking 9? And they're having a tax revolt?

I was at least neutral on this whole thing until now. But holy shit. Those people are insane. The FY 2010 rate here in Portland, ME is 17.74.
posted by rusty at 6:48 AM on February 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Taxachusetts and the People's Republic of Cambridge, I just wanna say that I love you so much. You can tax my income. I voted for your right to do so. It would be nice if maybe you fixed up the Red Line a little bit, but things are pretty good otherwise. Your police and fire departments are effective, your schools are good, your public transportation is cheap and gets me where I need to go. Thanks for being you.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:51 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


"And the LORD said 'And answer unto them 'Fuck thee, for I haveth mine''" - Bullshit 3:17
posted by prak at 6:53 AM on February 2, 2010 [46 favorites]


There are lots of small communities (and a surprising number of large ones) that have an all or partial volunteer fire department.

I have lived in some of those all-volunteer communities. In each of them, the residents had a joke about the number of cellar-holes the fire department had saved. Response time does matter. Since I cannot be certain it won't matter to me personally, I would rather pay taxes to have people standing by in case it does.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:56 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Huh, so looking at the proposed budget, it seems everyone is talking out of their ass.

The changes to departmental spending are below:
                                          2009               2010
Appointees                                                           
City Council                       100,804        307,279        205%
City Manager                       941,406        821,774        -13%
City Attorney                    3,483,299      3,372,936         -3%
City Auditor                     1,373,772      1,551,711         13%
City Clerk                         645,005        655,304          2%
Municipal Court                  3,538,035      3,511,914         -1%
Comm. Development                                                    
Land Use Review                  1,791,412      1,185,742        -34%
Engineering                      8,491,417      6,644,735        -22%
Econ. Development                                                    
Business Development               738,572        536,986        -27%
Comprehensive Planning             633,356        416,503        -34%
Housing                            539,772        515,615         -4%
Public Communications              382,317        283,210        -26%
Streets                          9,750,710      9,836,042          1%
Human Resources                                                      
Employment                         818,546        783,751         -4%
Risk Management                    153,469              0       -100%
Information Technology           7,384,464      7,938,505          8%
Financial Services               1,549,832      1,504,206         -3%
Procurement Services               579,993        521,214        -10%
Revenue and Collections          1,415,402      1,434,579          1%
Fire                            40,190,968     39,107,553         -3%
Police                          74,769,796     75,525,622          1%
Parks                                                                
Cultural Services                1,037,406         21,335        -98%
Design and Development             374,727              0       -100%
Forestry                           956,304        392,938        -59%
Park Maintenance                 5,008,748      2,183,295        -56%
Park Administration                938,512        618,215        -34%
Recreation Services              7,270,902      2,308,417        -68%
Transit                          9,733,472      2,625,950        -73%


The budget is down ~10% this year. Police and Streets, the largest and third-largest expenditures, have INCREASED. Fire has barely been dented. Appointees have gotten a goddam raise. Parks have been pretty devestated. The city council is just threatening to cut those fundamental services to the reporters without actually doing it in the budget. The streetlights are just for show.
posted by FuManchu at 6:56 AM on February 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


Taxachusetts and the People's Republic of Cambridge, I just wanna say that I love you so much. You can tax my income. I voted for your right to do so. It would be nice if maybe you fixed up the Red Line a little bit, but things are pretty good otherwise. Your police and fire departments are effective, your schools are good, your public transportation is cheap and gets me where I need to go. Thanks for being you.

Though, if you ever want to send some of that money BACK to west of Worcester, we here in Springfield won't say no. Really, there are people here.
posted by Legomancer at 6:56 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Re: Street Lights

It's not always possible to see at night using starlight or moonlight. Or do they not have clouds where you live? Also, many people have reduced or effectively no night vision. At least some street lights are necessary for those reasons alone.
posted by jedicus at 6:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I grew up in a place with loads of street lights and now live in a place which doesn't really have a whole lot of them, and I much prefer the street lights. However, anecdotal evidence and all of that, so I went and looked at some literature.

With regards to safety

The safety effects of public lighting were, however, sensitive to accident severity and type of accident. It was concluded that the best current estimates of the safety effects of public lighting are, in rounded values, a 65 percent reduction in nighttime fatal accidents, a 30 percent reduction in nighttime injury accidents, and a 15 percent reduction in nighttime property-damage-only accidents.

With regards to crime

ELVIK R, Meta-analysis of evaluations of public lighting as accident countermeasure, Transportation research record, 1995

This paper focuses upon the results of a co-ordinated programme of research designed to evaluate the impact of street lighting improvements on crime and fear of crime. The street lighting was upgraded in three urban streets and a pedestrian footpath considered by a multi-agency team to be crime and fear prone. The impact of the street lighting programme was assessed using attitudinal and behavioural measures, through ‘before’ and ‘after’ surveys of pedestrians. The results provide convincing evidence that sensitively deployed street lighting can lead to reductions in crime and fear of crime, and increase pedestrian street use after dark.

Kate Painter, The influence of street lighting improvements on crime, fear and pedestrian street use, after dark


Table 3.2 summarises the key results. In four evaluations the improved street lighting was considered to be effective in reducing crime (Atlanta, Milwaukee, Fort Worth and – for violence – Kansas City). In the other four evaluations, the improved street lighting was considered to be ineffective (Portland, Harrisburg, New Orleans and Indianapolis).


David P. Farrington and Brandon C. Welsh, Effects of improved street lighting
on crime: a systematic review Home Office Research Study 251

posted by Comrade_robot at 6:59 AM on February 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


Oh, the "Ferrari-level benefits" I used above actually came from one of the articles, I don't know what the details are. Just trying to portray the frustration of the locals.

And it certainly seems like the appointees, police, and fire unions did a fine job of protecting their salaries and benefits, according to my analysis above.
posted by FuManchu at 6:59 AM on February 2, 2010


Risk Management 153,469 0 -100%

Seems....what's the word I'm looking for...something that means "having the potential to expose oneself to hazard or loss".
posted by electroboy at 7:03 AM on February 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


Ever been in a city, at night, that had no street lights?

No street lights, or just non-ubiquitous street lights?

I've lived a few places in the latter situation. The town I grew up in (population under 100,000) didn't have ubiquitous street lights until I was 30, before then they just lined some of the main roads. Now they're everywhere. Violent crime doesn't seem to have changed much. Property crime seems to be somewhat higher. It hasn't achieved the milky opaque glow of an LA night sky yet, but star visibility is limited to maybe a hundred prominent points, and sleeping in the dark is more difficult unless you've got blackout curtains. It's not clear to me that quality of life around town has been improved in any significant way.

YMMV. Maybe it yields more benefits in more urban areas, maybe it makes more sense in certain contexts, like high traffic (foot or auto) venues. But reflexive love for streetlights everywhere as a generally essential utility for civilization? No.

Are you fucking serious?

Take some time to read what you just linked to, and I think you'll find that it's not at all matched with the tone you invoked.
posted by weston at 7:04 AM on February 2, 2010


My own experience with street lights are pretty clear cut: I spent the first 42 years of my life driving around Southern California, then I moved to North Carolina. Often I have to drive home at night on unlit country roads-- it is surprising how small an area the headlights illuminate. It is a little daunting for this driver to drive at the posted speed of 45 on unfamiliar roads that bend and twist with only blackness ahead; it is always a relief when a car passes me and I can watch the taillights so I know what to expect. What makes the experience a bit more exciting is the the very real threat of deer leaping out in front of the car. Getting to the interstate is always a relief.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:06 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


And it certainly seems like the appointees, police, and fire unions did a fine job of protecting their salaries and benefits,...

Which is their function.
Imagine - boats that actually float!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:06 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somebody quoted costs of $90,000 per worker. I have been told by a director at a DJ30 company that for every dollar that appears in your gross pay, the company is spending $2.00 on you (benefits, taxes and so on).

If you really think these people are getting "Ferrari-level benefits", I think you need to check out the sticker price on a Ferrari.

When paying people a living wage is synonymous with waste, you're pretty throwing in the towel on the whole "first world nation" thing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:07 AM on February 2, 2010 [18 favorites]


I've never been to Colorado Springs (though I may have driven through it) but judging from the satellite images, it looks like a big collection of suburban sprawl.

I've been there a few times and it is, hands-down, the most suburbany sprawly place I've ever visited in 48 states. My memory of Colorado Springs is mile after mile of strip malls. If you saw Fast Food Nation (wasn't very good, but bear with me), you probably at some point noticed that pretty much every single shot had some fast food joint's or big-box retailer's sign glowing away in the background. The film was shot in Colorado Springs. The only local business is Focus on the Family. The city probably collects all of fifteen cents in business taxes.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:09 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


>Really, there are people here.

Oh, I know, I took a field trip to Old Sturbridge Village once.

May you have a fine harvest


And thanks for the tax dollas

posted by oinopaponton at 7:10 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fu, you're making the assumption that every dollar in your big table of numbers above is going to workers pay. I'm not going to bother to track down the actual numbers, but suggest to you that similar methodology would suggest that every sailor in the navy is paid roughly a zillion dollars a year.

In science we have a word for this. We call it wrong.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:13 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was at least neutral on this whole thing until now. But holy shit. Those people are insane. The FY 2010 rate here in Portland, ME is 17.74.

I'm paying 20.09 Millage in Pittsburgh plus a 3% city income tax, a $52 a year employment privilege tax, an extra 1% (over the state rate) sales tax, a 5% amusement tax, a 7% poured drink tax, and a 37.5% parking tax. So yea, no sympathy from me either.
posted by octothorpe at 7:14 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I heard a rumor that folks on this here web site are mostly politically homogeneous. That's not true, is it?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:15 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if 1%er motorcycle clubs like the Sons of Silence consider themselves Libertarians? I mean, outlaws, "Fuck The Man" and all that. OTOH, paved roads to ride on don't pay for themselves.

Hey, if there's no streetlights to see by, at least you can hear the thunder of their engines as they approach, right?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:17 AM on February 2, 2010


Fu, you're making the assumption that every dollar in your big table of numbers above is going to workers pay.

Jesus christ, do the work yourself and prove me wrong then, here's the PDF link. I used total, the Salary/Benefits line is right next to it. There's not a large difference between them.
posted by FuManchu at 7:18 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Union membership has been declining for generations. When people have a choice, they prefer Wal-Mart's low prices to Union-Marts comprehensive benefits. Sad, but true.

What do these two things have to do with one another? Union membership isn't declining because people care any less about a union label than they ever did; it's declining because of an increasingly professionalized union-busting sector and an increasingly employer-friendly regulatory climate.

Why has it been increasing in government?

Because most government employees' unions are under a separate and frequently friendlier (in union states) regulatory regime than are most private-sector workers, for historical reasons.

And why should the taxpayers support this with their tax dollars when they absolutely do not with their private dollars?

Once again, it wasn't consumer choices that killed unions in the US, though I don't really see how it would matter if it had been.
posted by enn at 7:18 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


There's not a large difference in the percentage change between them, rather.
posted by FuManchu at 7:19 AM on February 2, 2010


But streetlights suck, though. Last year the streetlights on my block were out maybe a third of time and it was great — made everything so much more pleasant.
posted by enn at 7:21 AM on February 2, 2010


37.5% parking tax

I have never heard of such a thing.
Presumably you pay if you use a private lot?
posted by madajb at 7:22 AM on February 2, 2010


Also, my point wasn't specifically the salaries, but rather the programs being cut. Streetlights don't need to be cut off when the funding for Streets, salaries and operating costs included, is growing.
posted by FuManchu at 7:22 AM on February 2, 2010


Hey guys, let's concentrate on the street lights issue, I think it's the most relevant.


FWIW, when we had a local budget issue, they cut back on street light usage too. It's the most visible change, so people talk about it the most. Really, if I was cutting back on a bunch of services, I would shift the dialogue to talking about street lights to draw attention away from the other cuts.
posted by mikeh at 7:23 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


To add a bit more - an equally valid conclusion to be drawn from the table would be that chunks of budget from other departments were managed by workers who are no longer employed by the city and those functions are now directly overseen by the city council.

It's always amazing when people demand a small government get all surprised when it starts to look like a monarchy, as if there is some other small government model in the history of human civilization.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:24 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Presumably you pay if you use a private lot?

Exactly. They just levied a 15% parking tax here.
posted by electroboy at 7:25 AM on February 2, 2010


delmoi: "have you ever actually walked around at night with no streetlights? "

Yes. As a child I lived in a town with 0 streetlights. When you hear a car (usually you could hear it when it is about 1/4 mile away - or more if they are speeding) you know that you will have to climb down into the ditch when it gets closer. When cars are more frequent than one every half an hour this becomes inconvenient.

The issue is not seeing where I am going when I walk. The issue is that cars drive too fast to safely avoid hitting pedestrians or bicyclists at night. Streetlights mitigate this danger by increasing visibility.

Have you ever seen a bike light at night with no ambient light? It's easy to mistake a bike list at 20 feet for a tail light at 500.
posted by idiopath at 7:25 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Government loves to grow. Why can't they ever make do with the tax rates of last decade?

And private industry doesn't? This is why we have anti-monopoly laws.
posted by spicynuts at 7:26 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Turning off the street lights might actually improve public health. A recent Israeli study described a relationship between levels of nighttime illumination in communities and the incidence of breast cancer. This finding is backed up by an increasingly well-documented etiology linking the suppression of melatonin production by light and cancer risk.
posted by melatonic at 7:28 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the budget PDF:

given the current budgetary challenges facing the City, the 2010 Budget does not include an annual wage compensation package for employees.

So nobody's salary went up.

The Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) requires retirement contributions for civilian employees to increase by 0.9% in 2010.

The pensions went up because PERA required them to. This is a state-wide thing and out of the local government's control.

The City’s self-insured benefit plans (medical/prescription, dental and vision) continue to perform well as evidenced by positive claims experience. The City has experienced and anticipates experiencing better performance than the national benchmark trend of double-digit premium increases. In spite of this, additional funding of $2,400,000 in employer costs is required for 2010.

So, they're doing good because at least they kept the health insurance premium increase under 10%. Yet I imagine the very folks who opposed the tax increase also oppose health care reform.

Funding of $525,000 is included to cover the cost of claims in the Workers’ Compensation Fund.

Workers' compensation is also set at the state level, so the city has to maintain an appropriate fund.

So basically all of this talk about 'Ferrari-level benefits' is absurd. The only thing the city could've done differently is reduce or eliminate health benefits, which would probably lead to an increase in medical bankruptcies among city employees. I suppose they could've cut city employee pay outright, but depending on the legal structure in place that may not be easily done.
posted by jedicus at 7:28 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Exactly. They just levied a 15% parking tax here.

That's crazy. Apparently the Pittsburgh one used to be 50%!
posted by madajb at 7:29 AM on February 2, 2010


Couldn't happen to nicer people.
posted by vivelame at 7:32 AM on February 2, 2010


So basically all of this talk about 'Ferrari-level benefits' is absurd.

I'm guessing in this context "Ferrari-level benefits" == any benefits.
posted by electroboy at 7:34 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Streetlights mitigate this danger by increasing visibility.

Sometimes.
Other times, as happens frequently in my area during the ubiquitous fog, they make things worse by creating islands of light beyond which you can't see a thing, be it pedestrian, bicyclist or animal.

If Colorado Springs is taking a serious look at their streetlights, eliminating redundant or useless ones, then it's an excellent way of saving money, the environment, and some semblance of starry wonder, but if they are just turning off every other streetlight out of laziness or some some misguided "This'll show those people that can't vote against us!" spite, then it's just a waste of time.
posted by madajb at 7:35 AM on February 2, 2010


Taxachusetts

For the record, Massachusetts is ranked more around the middle of the pack compared with other states in terms of the state tax burden.
posted by the other side at 7:40 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no valid political position that begins with knee-jerk rejection of taxation, because you can't have a political system without taxation. You could, I suppose, have various forms of anarchic self-governance with people pooling resources--but without taxes, how do you establish the legal system necessary to enforce contracts?

And in anticipation of any Tea Party nonsense about how America was founded in opposition to taxes, I'd point out that in fact the specific event that triggered the original Boston Tea Party protest was the British waiving a tax on imported tea from China. As a result, that imported tea suddenly became cheaper and threatened to squeeze out our own smuggled bootleg brew (which John Hancock was making a killing peddling to the colonists because the original British tax had made the cheaper tea more expensive). That's why the rallying cry was "taxation without representation," not "death to taxes."

Now that we've got our own nation, with representatives of our own to set tax policy, the original complaint of taxation without representation has been remedied. That's not to say we don't still have a right to petition our representatives (or vote them out) when we don't like how tax policy is set. But the notion that America began as a nation principally opposed to taxation is a fantasy. It's more accurate to say that America began as a conspiracy of rich guys protecting their illegal bootlegging operations. Not correct either, but more accurate.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:48 AM on February 2, 2010 [22 favorites]


Professionalism is not correlated with pay.

Which is why it is absolutely necessary for Goldman Sachs to pay its executives 100-dollar-bonuses.

But, then, private industry will step in and provide all of those services that failed under the inefficient bureaucracy of oppressive government...For roughly 15-20% more than what people paid for the same services through their taxes.


You see, a conservative is someone who would rather pay $5,000 for police and fire protection that's only for paying customers than $2,000 for police and fire protection that helps everyone, even people who didn't pay anything, even if the quality of service is exactly the same in both cases.

See also health care reform, school vouchers, attempts to mitigate the housing crisis ("We can't do something that helps all of us! Someone might get something they didn't deserve!")
posted by straight at 7:51 AM on February 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


While I disagree with FuManchu calling the city's benefits package "Ferrarri-level" (take a look at most upper level corporate executive packages), he does hit the nail right on the head in terms of what the city is doing by targeting basic services for the biggest cuts.

It's the "firemen first" approach: make a big public announcement about how dire the financial condition is, that the only way it can be saved is by making big cuts and then show big cuts to fire protection services, police, parks, and other similar things that citizens use most or value most. Then, when the uproar comes, the city just responds by saying, well, the only way to get this done if you want to save these basic services is through a tax increase of some sort.
posted by webhund at 7:51 AM on February 2, 2010


Do you people realize that Colorado Springs residents can already expect to spend almost $79 dollars a YEAR in property taxes if they own a $200,000 home...

Damn! Where I live in NJ - yearly property taxes on a $200k house (not that we have any) would be $3100. 10 miles away, in Teaneck NJ, a $200k house would be $9280!!!

But NJ is notorious for high property taxes. Then again, I'm pretty damn satisifed with the services... and streetlights.
posted by exhilaration at 7:52 AM on February 2, 2010


Hi. I realize I'm very late to the party, but I wanted to correct some of the blathering going on here against street lights.
They wreck my view of the stars.
When I was working as a neighborhood community organizer in an area with a severely underfunded police force, street lights were our first line of defense. Often times the police would identify crime-havens in the neighborhood based solely on where the street lights weren't. They would map this information for us and we'd pressure the commission into installing them. You hang a halogen light over the parking lot behind the box-and-can bodega and suddenly the folks who live near there report a marked decrease in prostitution, drug-dealing, muggings and graffiti. It's a bit like playing whack-a-mole, but the street lights work. They work really, really well. I'm a crazy liberal as well, but don't knock on street lights. Poorly lit alleyways and parking lots really are the devil's playground, they reduce property value, make people feel unsafe, and provide a safe haven for dealers and rapists. And I'm not being hyperbolic. I miss the starry sky as well, but we've had a spate of homeless slayings in those dark alleys and I want them lit up like a Christmas tree. In the hardest hit parts of the neighborhood the shop owners will attempt to rig their own lighting systems and have even resorted to dragging old telephone poles across the alleyways to keep vehicles out.
So, I guess, screw your stars. People are getting raped and murdered.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:54 AM on February 2, 2010 [31 favorites]


enn: But streetlights suck, though. Last year the streetlights on my block were out maybe a third of time and it was great — made everything so much more pleasant.

You are privileged to live in such a place.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I saw this article yesterday. The part I found the most fascinating was a comment at the bottom of the article.

LOL a gullible liberal still defend the sweetheart democrooks. LOL gullible fool you vote for all these idiots Cap and trade can you read or you just a parrot boy for Chris Matthews .

The only spoiled brats I see is the liberals tax and spend and now the evidence is smacking you right in the head and still your defend the sweetheart Democrooks LOL

Grow up Government is not the answer but you will find out soon learn gullible liberal as the country falls apart. Go liberal fools go liberals watch Obozo kill this country for good.

I well sit back and be here to remind you about the idiots all the time.

Time to grow up liberals money doesn't grow on trees try learning simple math on how to balance a budget. Can you handle that gullible one.


First, I've decided that we've passed the turing test, but in the opposite direction. I can't tell auto-generated from real people nowadays.

Secondly, I think it's a very good idea to randomly insert the word liberal into every single sentence complaining about any sort of modern government policy. It guarantees that everyone reading your complaint understands exactly who you hate, regardless of where they are in any given sentence. In the past, you might get to the middle of a sentence and simply forget who the badguys were.. with this new approach that will never happen again.

Example -
Obama is a democrook who will kill this country for good.

When you read that, it leads off strong. Obama is BAAAD. But mid sentence, when the reading fatigue sets in, that feeling fades. When you run it through the randomizer, you get -
Liberal Obama is a democrook liberal who will kill liberal this country for good.

Now I'm filled with hatred towards liberal for the whole sentence. Much more consistent. In closing, think of these as little reminders, designed to make frothing hatred easier for the absent minded.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:02 AM on February 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


The local megachurches, if they're smart, are probably salivating at the thought of being able to sweep in and fill the void left by shuttered community centers, slashed transportation, childcare, senior care, etc. It'll be like Hamas, American-style.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 8:08 AM on February 2, 2010 [24 favorites]


t's entirely possible that they're cutting police and fire while maintaining things that aren't even vaguely essential.

Funny that the voters of Colorado Springs didn't bother to elect people who could cut this bureaucratic fat before the city started feeling the pinch.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:14 AM on February 2, 2010


I simply said that you can't make an assumption about the quality of firefighter based on what they are paid.

An I am saying, having worked with a few hundred firefighters in everything from very well funded departments that pay top dollar to volunteer departments on Indian reserves, that there is most definitely a correlation. Under-resource a department and you get wht you pay for.

Firefighting, like police or nursing, is a portable career. Certifications are all done by the NFPA. All departments since 2001 use (or are switching to) the same organizational command structure, ICS. This makes it quite possible for firefighters to change departments. Just as the big private hospitals can steal away nurses with higher pay, so to can well-funded fire departments (not to mention private industry).
posted by bonehead at 8:15 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm all in favor of shutting down the vice squad.

Otherwise, damn when did people in Colorado Springs become so insanely stupid?
posted by sotonohito at 8:16 AM on February 2, 2010


I've lived in Colorado Springs since 1993, except for three years (2003-2006). I came back with a song in my heart, and not because I love Ted Haggard or want to work at Focus on the Family. I came back because the downtown/westside is a beautiful (non-sprawling) place to live with a small but respectable art scene and community-minded folks. Our little corner of the Springs defies the stereotypes that haunt the city as a whole. If you've only seen the Springs sprawl, you've missed out.

That being said, money has always been spent unwisely in this town (as it is in many other places) and will likely continue to be. For example, if we would have xeriscaped city property and public spaces years ago, we could have saved thousands (probably millions) of dollars in water expenditure.

I have no problems with raising taxes. However, I wish I could trust my elected officials to spend the money creatively and responsibly.
posted by janakf at 8:22 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


An I am saying, having worked with a few hundred firefighters in everything from very well funded departments that pay top dollar to volunteer departments on Indian reserves, that there is most definitely a correlation.

If it makes you happy to believe so, who I am to persuade you from that erroneous view.
posted by madajb at 8:22 AM on February 2, 2010


FuManchu : Huh, so looking at the proposed budget, it seems everyone is talking out of their ass.

Great info, Fu!

I do notice one conspicuous absence, however - Schools.

In my own town, every year we fight over a few dozen piddling little services, a few thousand dollars here and there. And we fight all the more viciously with hard feelings all around for a few weeks after town meeting, because the "real" expense over which we have no control (regional school, they just send the town a bill) eats up literally 95% of the town budget.

So we can slash every single basic service to zero, and still only lower our mil rate by less than a buck - Or looked at another way, we pay around $150 per (residential) property for "real" services, and 3k just for schools (and poorly performing ones at that).

And some people wonder why the elderly and childless-by-choice resent this...
posted by pla at 8:32 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You are privileged to live in such a place.

I buy the idea that some urban areas with various social factors driving crime can benefit from nighttime lighting, but I doubt the portion of civilization that fits this profile is so vast that living outside of it constitutes a rare privilege.
posted by weston at 8:34 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


some people wonder why the elderly and childless-by-choice resent this...

I certainly don't wonder at it. It's because they are stupid and self-centered. The old people who resent it figure they'll be dead soon, so who cares about the future, and the childless-by-choice who resent it would rather buy another XBox.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:37 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you look at the numbers that FuManchu posted (thanks, Fu, for being the only person so far to actually do some homework on this), they look to me to be bad-faith cuts. That is, they need to cut about 10% from overall expenditures. But almost everything is being loaded into parks and the bus system, instead of spreading the pain around somewhat equally.

And they're actually increasing budgets in areas that seem odd to me, like IT. Unless there's a specific plan to drive down costs in future years by investing now (old-style Microsoft networks, for example, are very expensive to maintain), I'm wary of a budget that adds 8% to IT, when there's a 10% revenue shortfall.

That's a classic example of cutting external services FIRST, and keeping internal services active.... trying to externalize the pain of a budget crunch, instead of absorbing it yourself. Instead of accepting fewer services internally, they appear to be keeping themselves comfortable while screwing over the voter.

Given those numbers, I think the people of Colorado Springs may very well have been smart to refuse the tax increase. That budget seems to have very strange priorities. There's a good chance that what they need isn't more money, but new people in charge.
posted by Malor at 8:45 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


who I am to persuade you from that erroneous view

Not the person who can, obviously.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:47 AM on February 2, 2010


Cut the size of the council.
Consolidate projects and juristiction.
Eliminate duplicate jobs.
Eliminate pension disbursements for people working in similar positions in the private/public sector.

Were I 18 again plan:
- Go to trade school: plumbing, electrician, lawncare - etc.
- at 20 Sit for my civil service exam
- Work 20 years for some municipality, where I get a decent wage . Its not great, and you are out in the worst conditions but,

at 40, "retire" collect ~80% pay and go do the same job in the next town over making comprable pay... efectively doubling my income.

Work to 60, "retire" again and probably never have to work again...
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:51 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a bit like playing whack-a-mole, but the street lights work. They work really, really well. I'm a crazy liberal as well, but don't knock on street lights. Poorly lit alleyways and parking lots really are the devil's playground, they reduce property value, make people feel unsafe, and provide a safe haven for dealers and rapists.

It takes a light to create a shadow. Poorly designed street lights ruin people's night-vision and make it that much harder to see anything when they step into an area that is not illuminated. On the other hand, in the complete absence of street lights, it's not that hard to see things; night-vision is preserved, and the stars and moon provide enough ambient light to do the job. Go out into the country and hang out in a meadow for a while; you'll be surprised just how easy it is to see things when your eyes are adjusted to the darkness.

By all means, place street lights on highways where people are driving 50+ mph. However, street lights everywhere is an arms-race that can't really be won. The more you illuminate certain places, the darker the shadows seem elsewhere.
posted by explosion at 8:52 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not the person who can, obviously.

Indeed.
It would be a pointless derail anyway, since we've both had apparently far different experiences within fire departments.
posted by madajb at 8:56 AM on February 2, 2010


All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
posted by kirkaracha at 8:57 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jimmy Havok : I certainly don't wonder at it. It's because they are stupid and self-centered.

Um, no, I think you completely missed my point.

I, for one, value education greatly. I even think we should offer education up to the 2-year college or vocational school level paid for by society.

But that it costs 95% of a small town budget, and that even shipping them off to a regional school? I see that as a problem. We piss and moan over basic safety issues like how much to allocate for snow removal, then pay over a million to send 2-300 kids someplace they don't even want to go.

And before you ask, yes, I do have a simple solution - Make education after 6th grade optional, and end all SpEd programs. By that point, you know which kids will become engineers and which will work as McSlaves-for-life... So why do we waste the other six years on people who need no skills beyond identifying the picture of a cheeseburger on the register? And don't tell me it makes them and society in general in some vague way "better"... "You cannot teach a pig to sing; it's a waste of time and just annoys the pig."

Same ideas that apply to the health care debate apply here. When you spend 90% of the money on the 10% who matter the least, that gives a fundamentally flawed system.
posted by pla at 9:02 AM on February 2, 2010


That is, they need to cut about 10% from overall expenditures. But almost everything is being loaded into parks and the bus system, instead of spreading the pain around somewhat equally.

You can see a more detailed plan on their bizarrely laid out budget page.
You're right, Parks and Transportation are taking the biggest hit by far.
posted by madajb at 9:04 AM on February 2, 2010


explosion: "It takes a light to create a shadow. Poorly designed street lights ruin people's night-vision and make it that much harder to see anything when they step into an area that is not illuminated. On the other hand, in the complete absence of street lights, it's not that hard to see things; night-vision is preserved, and the stars and moon provide enough ambient light to do the job."

You are perhaps being facetious? There are a lot of people who have pigmentosa or are otherwise night blind, so light from the stars and moon are insufficient. As others have said, the light from the stars and moon may not be available. However, if you are young with good eyes, yes indeed, ambient light is sufficient.

Imagine, too, an attacker in a shady part of town in an unlit alley. I wonder if he could dazzle you by targeting you briefly with a high-intensity spotlight while protecting his own eyes. Do you suppose that would be better or worse than going from street light to street light?
posted by boo_radley at 9:06 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


And some people wonder why the elderly and childless-by-choice resent this...

jesus christ. I'm currently childless-by-choice. I don't resent it. I may be childless-by-choice for the rest of my life. I still won't resent it. An educated population is a safer population, and people who resent paying to educate the people of the town they live in are communal poison.
posted by shmegegge at 9:09 AM on February 2, 2010 [29 favorites]


Given how bad the schools are in many places, shmegegge, you end up paying to not educate the population.

You can fail to educate the population for a lot less money.
posted by Malor at 9:13 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


on lack of preview:

Make education after 6th grade optional, and end all SpEd programs. By that point, you know which kids will become engineers and which will work as McSlaves-for-life... So why do we waste the other six years on people who need no skills beyond identifying the picture of a cheeseburger on the register?

oh holy shit. this is amazing. it's like reading a libertarian pamphlet, except it's written in the language libertarians use in their heads instead of the words they use in public because they think people will be offended. never mind that Albert Einstein was a notoriously poor student as a child. or that Stephen Hawking benefitted from Special Education. WE KNOW WHO WILL WORK AS MCSLAVES FOR LIFE! teach them to recognize the burger picture!

fucking outstanding.
posted by shmegegge at 9:15 AM on February 2, 2010 [65 favorites]


Make education after 6th grade optional, and end all SpEd programs. By that point, you know which kids will become engineers and which will work as McSlaves-for-life

Oh, I desperately want pla and Faze to marry and set up house under a nice bridge somewhere. It seems a shame that two such kindred souls should live apart.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:15 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


nanukthedog: at 40, "retire" collect ~80% pay and go do the same job in the next town over making comprable pay... efectively doubling my income.

You realize it's closer to 50%, not 80%, and the 20-years-to-pension-vest is, except for law enforcement, firefighters, and the military, pretty much extinct. For most civil service jobs, pension vesting is calculated by adding your age to your years of service. If it adds up to some arbitrary number (usually 80 or 85), you're vested. Someone starting today at the age 20 would have to put in either 30 or 33 years for their pension to vest. This change in the retirement eligibility rules was put in place to prevent people from doing exactly what you're talking about.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:16 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


You can fail to educate the population for a lot less money.

are we talking about paying for education, or are we talking about how to educate? I'll be the first person to say we need to improve public school education, as a process. But the solution to that is not, "pay them less to teach poorly." the solution should ideally be to get the education you're paying for, and not to skimp on paying for it just because you don't like how much it costs.

but we're not really discussing the details of education reform, are we?
posted by shmegegge at 9:19 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Were I 18 again plan:
- Go to trade school: plumbing, electrician, lawncare - etc.
- at 20 Sit for my civil service exam
- Work 20 years for some municipality, where I get a decent wage .


Well, in theory, maybe that's a possible plan -- until you consider that in cycles of bust, city maintenance workers are not exactly immune from being sacked. In some municipalities, there's the added bonus of getting to be "bumped" from a civil service position if you are newly hired (let's say 5 years or less in the position that you hold, because after a certain point seniority applies and keeps you safer from bumping).

The inevitable budget cut cycle arrives and the city manager or city council or board of supervisors is mandated by the local civil service regs to transfer someone with more seniority into your position, often from another department altogether, even if that person has little or no experience in the type of job that he or she is bumping you from. I can see specialized trades such as electricians, etc., being exempt from the bump, but not always.

So no, a civil service position is not the sinecure that some fantasize it being.
posted by blucevalo at 9:19 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


shmegegge : never mind that Albert Einstein was a notoriously poor student as a child. or that Stephen Hawking benefitted from Special Education.

You would call me out as dishonest if I cherrypicked counterexamples to your point such as Bill Gates, John Glenn, or Ted Turner (all dropouts). Do me the same courtesy.


except it's written in the language libertarians use in their heads instead of the words they use in public because they think people will be offended.

Call me nothing if not honest. Let me turn that around on you - What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids? And again, I said that I support offering education beyond even what we do now - I just see no gain in making anything beyond basic math and English compulsory.


but we're not really discussing the details of education reform, are we?

If discussing budget bloat and how to cut it? Yes, that pretty much forms the core problem in most town and municipal budgets. I live in a small town, so 95% looks high, but even the largest cities tend to have 60-80% of their budgets going to education.
posted by pla at 9:26 AM on February 2, 2010


MetaFilter: I well sit back and be here to remind you about the idiots all the time.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:29 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in a small town, so 95% looks high, but even the largest cities tend to have 60-80% of their budgets going to education.

And some states too -- because of Prop 98, funding for K-14 education and community college districts consumes on average about 43% of California's annual general fund tax proceeds before the budget is even formulated.
posted by blucevalo at 9:36 AM on February 2, 2010


By that point, you know which kids will become engineers and which will work as McSlaves-for-life...

Also, dude, McSlaves is not the preferred nomenclature. Morlock-American, please.
posted by electroboy at 9:38 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


It takes a light to create a shadow.

when the heat death of the universe happens, you're going to be SO surprised
posted by pyramid termite at 9:48 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]



For roughly 15-20% more than what people paid for the same services through their taxes. But, they won't be paying taxes. And that's the important part.

Tea, anyone?


Only if it is served with a certain someone's birth certificate.
posted by notreally at 9:51 AM on February 2, 2010


You would call me out as dishonest if I cherrypicked counterexamples to your point such as Bill Gates, John Glenn, or Ted Turner (all dropouts). Do me the same courtesy.

I'd say it's dishonest to call it cherry picking, when the counter-examples are the whole point. saying "we know who the mcslaves are by 6th grade" relies on an absolutist view of the world that doesn't actually hold up is the whole point. it's not cherry picking if a single counter-example pulls apart your whole solution. education isn't about doing well enough for the average. it's about working to be as inclusive as possible.

What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids?

what words do you imagine I use? the ones in my head are the same ones I use publicly. I appreciate your honesty. I really do. And I'm equally honest about this. i describe taking your money to educate other people's kids as "taking your money to educate other people's kids." you just use "support" because it sounds more weak and wasteful to you if you call it that.

I just see no gain in making anything beyond basic math and English compulsory.

which you're free to believe. for myself, considering one of our greatest national exports is hollywood, I'm inclined to give more consideration to the arts, and I don't see a whole lot of actual reason to agree with you about this.

If discussing budget bloat and how to cut it? Yes, that pretty much forms the core problem in most town and municipal budgets.

which, again, assumes the education budget is bloat, and that you can get a well educated population cheapy, which is an assumption I don't see a whole lot of support for, logically.
posted by shmegegge at 9:54 AM on February 2, 2010 [21 favorites]


It's easier to tell who will work as McSlaves for life if you give them special colored jumpsuits and call them Deltas and Epsilons. The fetal alcohol syndrome almost takes care of itself but it does make things go smoother if you enforce it centrally.
posted by Babblesort at 10:03 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


The local megachurches, if they're smart, are probably salivating at the thought of being able to sweep in and fill the void left by shuttered community centers, slashed transportation, childcare, senior care, etc. It'll be like Hamas, American-style.

And don't forget, the church doesn't have to pay taxes.

Fucking brilliant!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:03 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's easier to tell who will work as McSlaves for life if you give them special colored jumpsuits and call them Deltas and Epsilons. The fetal alcohol syndrome almost takes care of itself but it does make things go smoother if you enforce it centrally.

Oh calm down, Brave New World was a parody, no one is suggesting anything like that ..here have a Xanax.
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on February 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids?

knowledge, competency, ability, skill, informed, functional, civilization
posted by pyramid termite at 10:10 AM on February 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids?

Civic duty. Good citizenship. High-falutin' stuff like dat dere.

I'm sure you and your family have never used any tax-funded services or public works and have never depended on the labor of people educated in the public schools, but most other people have. Pretty much every product and service other people want and need is available to them only because people somewhere paid taxes for education, wages, construction, etc. I know it doesn't matter to you directly in your entirely self-sufficient family compound sealed forever behind gateless security walls and guarded by your private security force, but you really ought to think of the commoners.
posted by pracowity at 10:11 AM on February 2, 2010 [18 favorites]


What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids?


OK, so you know that Alan Greenspan guy? Devotee of Ayn Rand, big on free markets and stuff, not exactly what you might call liberal? These are his words:

Another education imperative goes beyond fostering market forces in schools. I recognize that left to their own devices, market incentives will not reach the education of those children 'left behind' (to borrow a term from current US education legislation). The cost of educational egalitarianism is doubtless high and may be difficult to justify in terms of economic efficiency and short-term productivity. Some students can achieve a given level of education far more easily, and therefore at far less cost, than others. Yet there is danger to a democratic society in leaving some children out of sync with its institutions. Such neglect contributes to exaggerated income concentration, and could conceivably be far more costly to the sustaining of capitalism and globalization in the long run. The value judgments involves in making such choices reach beyond the imperatives of the marketplace.


Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:13 AM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I live in a small town, so 95% looks high, but even the largest cities tend to have 60-80% of their budgets going to education.

What percentage should various services be?
posted by dirigibleman at 10:15 AM on February 2, 2010


I appreciate all the streetlight effectiveness links, and will henceforth make an effort to resent them less. Despite what people assume from my comment, I've walked extensively at night (at least a thousand miles), often after 2 AM (insomnia) in multiple cities (Manhattan, Philly, San Jose's 'crack corner', Sacramento, Portland, La Jolla, SF including the tenderloin, and a bunch of small towns & suburbs). Streetlights have often made me feel less safe, because one poorly trimmed tree and suddenly you have impenatrably deep shadow a few feet from where you are walking. I have almost never been in a city where you can walk long distances without extensive gaps in light coverage (excepting most of Manhattan for obvious reasons). I had a friend who got raped in just such a gap in the otherwise well lit half of Davis, CA; You'd think that would put me in the pro streetlight camp, but that half of town had a lot more streetlights than the older sections, and there are still gaps (there are always gaps). So my take on it is that streetlights are most useful in protecting us from the drawbacks of car culture (pedestrian unfriendly, lighting up parking lots, and short stretches of pavement so you can get to your precious car).

As for night vision, mine has gotten much worse over the years. I now carry a flashlight when walking at night, regardless of the presence of street lights.

I now live in an area with little nighttime traffic, almost no crime, and an exceptionally irrational fear of crime. They keep adding more street lights. If I could, I'd ship them off to the inner city, where they'd do some good.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:20 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids?

"The common good" comes to mind, but there are undoubtedly some political philosophies that deem the common good an irrelevant abstraction, and, indeed, beyond that, deem virtually anything that fosters the common good an unlawful "taking."
posted by blucevalo at 10:30 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


pracowity : Pretty much every product and service other people want and need is available to them only because people somewhere paid taxes for education, wages, construction, etc.

So then you've never shopped at WallyWorld?

Okay, if we can move beyond trading sarcastic jabs, can we agree that "The good of the many outweighs the good of the few"? That seems like the fundamental premise to the pro-95%-of-property-tax-on-education arguments I see here.

Except, I support the good of the many. I absolutely agree that we should fund programs for the common good. I even see the value of maximally educating those who will actually benefit from it (and thus return the favor to society). The problem comes about when we have a massively disproportional allocation of resources to a small minority, effectively saying "the kinda-sorta-okayness of the few outweighs the good of the many".

And on that point, shmegegge, we will always have outliers. For every Hawking we do have, how many do we miss? If we defend current spending levels by trying to save everyone, doesn't it follow that the only moral option available requires us to spend more? And if that net catches more fish, well, why not make it even bigger?

You can try to paint me as antisocial, as heartless, as insular; But at some point you need to draw a line and say "Y'know, at this price, even another Hawking simply couldn't ever give a positive ROI".


dirigibleman : What percentage should various services be?

Good, but weak, question. You know no "right" answer exists.

Personally, I would tend to say that since about a third of households have kids, 33% seems like a fair number (and no, that doesn't place the whole burden on that fraction, because they still get roads and fire protection and police, etc). But I'd consider shifting it by quite a bit (~10%) in either direction to deal with local circumstances.

But regardless of what we should have, I just can't find any justification of 95% as even remotely benefitting the public good. Great, all kids get their socialized babysitting - And meanwhile, people lose the houses they've had in the family for six generations because they simply can't afford their property taxes (income tax depends on actually having income; Property tax comes due no matter what your circumstances). And if you think I exaggerate, tax liens in my own town have gone up seventeen percent since last year, despite no population growth.

Everything amounts to a trade off. You can't just say "Education, rah rah rah" in isolation.
posted by pla at 10:40 AM on February 2, 2010


I think we're going pretty far off the rails.

We have numbers to look at here, and yet people are still clinging to ideological bashing. Fu Manchu did some homework and got the figures, and there's been almost no discussion of any substance.

This is supposedly an intelligent crowd, but I see little of it being exhibited here. When the financial rubber hits the road, what matters is the budget in question, and that's true from the smallest entities up to the largest. Why are the actual figures being so completely ignored?
posted by Malor at 10:44 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Malor : Why are the actual figures being so completely ignored?

I apologize for the (partial) derail, but I did give him credit for posting those numbers, and discussed them in that they clearly do not include at least one very, very big number.

Taking them in isolation, though, I agree with a few others - Nothing but posturing by the city to make the cuts hurt the people the most while minimally impacting themselves (+205% for the city council? That council needs this as their last year, if not an outright recall vote).
posted by pla at 10:49 AM on February 2, 2010


But regardless of what we should have, I just can't find any justification of 95% as even remotely benefitting the public good. Great, all kids get their socialized babysitting - And meanwhile, people lose the houses they've had in the family for six generations because they simply can't afford their property taxes (income tax depends on actually having income; Property tax comes due no matter what your circumstances).

But land ownership that doesn't contribute economically is a net drain on everyone else and the economy in general. That's one of the reasons we tax property, because without taxing property sufficiently you end up creating a landed aristocracy that leverages its control over valuable real estate to engage in rentierism, which has long been recognized as one of the most damaging and socially destabilizing forms of economic parasitism.

Even Adam Smith cautioned repeatedly against the rise of private land ownership, writing:

As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce. ~Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

We do not need to become a nation of bleeding hearts, crying over the poor maligned property owner in an era of accelerating economic inequality and decreasing median incomes.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:50 AM on February 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


pla:
And before you ask, yes, I do have a simple solution - Make education after 6th grade optional, and end all SpEd programs. By that point, you know which kids will become engineers and which will work as McSlaves-for-life... So why do we waste the other six years on people who need no skills beyond identifying the picture of a cheeseburger on the register?


Because they vote.
posted by xthlc at 11:01 AM on February 2, 2010 [28 favorites]


Nothing but posturing by the city to make the cuts hurt the people the most while minimally impacting themselves (+205% for the city council? That council needs this as their last year, if not an outright recall vote).

All governments tend to act toward self-preservation unless they are in some sort of Ayn Rand fantasyland. That a city council votes to give itself a nice fat raise is depressing, but hardly a earth-shattering surprise.

I even see the value of maximally educating those who will actually benefit from it (and thus return the favor to society).

What criterion do you use to decide who will "actually benefit" from maximal education?
posted by blucevalo at 11:01 AM on February 2, 2010


For every Hawking we do have, how many do we miss? If we defend current spending levels by trying to save everyone, doesn't it follow that the only moral option available requires us to spend more?

this is a slippery slope fallacy, and does not accurately reflect the current thinking on education, from any side. further, using terms like ROI (Return On Investment) demonstrates exactly the problem with judging education as a business, or as a capital investment for some kind of collective bank account. education is not about getting money back, and it never has been. google the link between education and crime rates. (disclosure: the 1st link in that google search is, by complete coincidence, from the Bard Prison Initiaive. I went to Bard College years ago. again, this is coincidence, though it is less coincidental that Bard was the first place I was alerted to the relationship between crime rates and education.) education is not a monetary investment. there is no reason to think of it that way, and there are ovewhelming reasons not to. this line of thinking is central to your position, and you should give serious consideration to re-evaluating it.
posted by shmegegge at 11:04 AM on February 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids?

Civilization.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:06 AM on February 2, 2010 [14 favorites]


Great info, Fu!
I do notice one conspicuous absence, however - Schools.


It's not uncommon in the US for school districts to be entirely independent layers of government, receiving no/minimal funds from the central city/county government, holding their own taxing power, and in no way responsible to the government of the city, township, or county.

This is true (AFAIK) throughout Texas, and in most of New York (ie, outside NYC and Buffalo city, maybe one or two other cities).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:15 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


>Make education after 6th grade optional, and end all SpEd programs. By that point, you know which kids will become engineers and which will work as McSlaves-for-life...

Okay, as the older brother of a young woman with autism, I'm going to have to tell you I'm deeply offended, and not in a "OH WOE! LOOK UPON THE ADDICT OF THE GOVERNMENT TEAT" sort of way. I don't want to start a fight or anything, but special education isn't "teaching a pig to sing." Good special education focuses on developing what skills can be developed. For some kids, that means learning how to wash dishes and pay bus fare. For others, maybe it's basic math and how to write a check. These skills are the difference between having a low paying job and living in an apartment or being homeless.

In essence, special ed is the difference between those kids being "parasites" for the rest of their lives, or them contributing what little they can. Every economics professor will tell you that even if someone is a slow or inefficient worker, their labor will contribute to the economy, and that of course is much better than letting them die on the streets or be kept in an institution (either prison or a mental hospital) for the rest of their lives.

Special ed is almost never about trying to teach kids with special needs to do something they can't do. That's why we have special ed. If the kids could learn at grade level, they wouldn't need to be in special ed.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:19 AM on February 2, 2010 [37 favorites]


saulgoodman : We do not need to become a nation of bleeding hearts, crying over the poor maligned property owner in an era of accelerating economic inequality and decreasing median incomes.

Very good points!

I don't live in a CT-south-shore town full of gated communities, though. Mostly old family farms that over time have split into 5ish acre lots with a trailer on them. In 200 years, the land in question might hold some economic value, but I don't foresee anyone wanting it for aught more than shelter in my lifetime. Still, the town has to pay its bills...

Believe me, I take Smith's warning very seriously. I can't help think, though, that we still allow the wealthiest their land-baronies, while punishing the poorest for having the good fortune (and yes, I will acknowledge it as a boon, as little as it sounds) to have a roof over their heads.


shmegegge : you should give serious consideration to re-evaluating it.

Fair enough. You have challenged one of my premises, I will accept that challenge and look into the validity of my premise.

As an aside - Yes, I appealed to a slippery slope, but that doesn't always fail to validate; only when used to scaremonger about mostly-unrelated issues does it commit a fallacy. I ask why have we stopped at this point on a continuum, without referring to any side effects but the one you yourself brought up.

BTW, I like your writing style - You may not care, but I really will look into your challenge of my premise.


ROU_Xenophobe : It's not uncommon in the US for school districts to be entirely independent layers of government, receiving no/minimal funds from the central city/county government, holding their own taxing power, and in no way responsible to the government of the city, township, or county.

I did not realize that, thank you! Scares the hell out of me, but, better to know (and never, ever move to such a place)... :)


Kid Charlemagne : Civilization.
pyramid termite : knowledge, competency, ability, skill, informed, functional, civilization
pracowity : Civic duty. Good citizenship. High-falutin' stuff like dat dere.

These do not count as arguments for something, but abstractions that you personally value over the individual - Effectively saying nothing more than "My idea of good beats yours". Kudos, blucevalo, for acknowledging that point.
posted by pla at 11:24 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money to support other people's kids?

You live in the same town they do. To a certain extent, they're your kids.

Or, y'know, off to the island with you, you brilliant titan of responsible fiscal management! Build your kingdom, empresario! And only tax the people who make babies and when you can't educate them you can shoulder the burden of increased public safety spending and prisons and wowwee I think your island sucks
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:24 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.

This is a perfect example of comparing apples to oranges. Someone email this to Joel Best.

I would be curious to know hwo Mr. Bartolin came to these drastically different figures, and would ask two questions: are the responsibilities of running city services similar to running a luxury resort, and did he happen to include his compensation and that of his management team in the 24K figure?
posted by RajahKing at 11:34 AM on February 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


As an aside - Yes, I appealed to a slippery slope, but that doesn't always fail to validate; only when used to scaremonger about mostly-unrelated issues does it commit a fallacy. I ask why have we stopped at this point on a continuum, without referring to any side effects but the one you yourself brought up.

BTW, I like your writing style - You may not care, but I really will look into your challenge of my premise.


well, i appreciate that, so thank you. I came out of the gate a little grar, for which I'm sorry. I'll work on that, as i have kind of a problem with immediately snarking on libertarians. I'm glad my subsequent comments made some amends for that.

regarding the slippery slope thing, I don't believe it's a fallacy only if it scaremongers about mostly unrelated issues, but maybe I'm wrong about that. I believe it's also a fallacy if it assumes the next step is a related, but highly unlikely, unwanted conclusion.
posted by shmegegge at 11:37 AM on February 2, 2010


Kudos, blucevalo, for acknowledging that point.

Well, to clarify, I acknowledge that the point exists as a subject of debate, which is different from conceding the point.
posted by blucevalo at 11:53 AM on February 2, 2010


ParisParamus, is that you? Come on, now.
posted by cavalier at 12:09 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now if you think that $89,000 per employee sounds like a lot of money, first consider that the actual salary component of that is probably 50-60% of the figure. A large portion of that is the "Ferrari benefits" some troglodyte mentioned upthread. Also consider that school teachers, police officers, etc. are all most likely city employees. I would guess that total costs per police officer are out of proportion with their salaries - they need equipment, training, vehicles, and probably have expensive insurance premiums. So if you think the city employees are rolling in it at $89,000 of total annual expense per capita, I urge you to reconsider your position.

Am I reading this right? Are you claiming that the city's costs for emergency services' vehicles and equipment is included in their cost per employee? Somehow I doubt that the private business owner who made the comparison between the city's spending per employee and his own is counting anything beyond salary and benefits. And yes, $89,100 for salary and benefits per employee does sound like a lot of money. One of the advantages of working for the government is an increase in job security and excellent benefits. The expectation then, is that the salary will be below the average in the private sector.

I'm reading a lot here about "selfish" tax payers, who don't give a damn about the common good, but where's the recognition that a lot of these budgets are simply unsustainable. When the money isn't there, it just isn't there. Outrage over some service's lack of funding is besides the point. I can only imagine the pitch of the whining when we have to come to grips with some really difficult issues like possibly defaulting on some of the civil servants' pensions and still having to cut services.

-----

education is not a monetary investment. there is no reason to think of it that way, and there are ovewhelming reasons not to.

This is a world of limited resources. Why shouldn't every expenditure be evaluated according to its return?
posted by BigSky at 12:19 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a world of limited resources. Why shouldn't every expenditure be evaluated according to its return?

there a lot of contributions to the resource problem. chief among them may be over population, both domestically and globally. nickel and diming the services we rely on locally doesn't solve that problem. so the world we live in is, yes, one of limited resources. but it's also one where money pays for important public services. as I mentioned up thread, the return on education isn't monetary because it contributes to lower crime rates.
posted by shmegegge at 12:38 PM on February 2, 2010


I think it's great! Show the anti taxers exactly what smaller gummint looks like. If Colorado Springs wanted to get real serious they would stop garbage collection as well.

Colorado Springs already doesn't provide any city-wide garbage collection. Residents must hire Waste Management or Bestway or whoever themselves. Though I suppose that many homes associations have a contract with a trash collector and build that into association fees.
posted by danthony at 12:40 PM on February 2, 2010


BigSky: "where's the recognition that a lot of these budgets are simply unsustainable. When the money isn't there, it just isn't there. Outrage over some service's lack of funding is besides the point. "

I guess this is where Colorado Springs is?
posted by boo_radley at 12:45 PM on February 2, 2010


Why shouldn't every expenditure be evaluated according to its return?

I'm not surprised to learn that the Google Ron Paul crowd thinks that they are capable of evaluating the investment return on a third-grader.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:47 PM on February 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


education is not a monetary investment. there is no reason to think of it that way, and there are ovewhelming reasons not to. this line of thinking is central to your position, and you should give serious consideration to re-evaluating it.

Ye-es, but it is a monetary cost, and (like healthcare) there is not a clear linear relationship between this cost and quality of results. I think we should look at education as an investment, it's just that the return on same is harder to evaluate because it takes place over a generation (or two, or even three).

If we don't, the alternative is to treat all education spending as sacrosanct and throw endless amounts of money into without regard to cost which is potentially just as wasteful as misdirected cuts.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:53 PM on February 2, 2010


Ye-es, but it is a monetary cost, and (like healthcare) there is not a clear linear relationship between this cost and quality of results.

let me say for the record that I am all for education reform. I don't agree much with the "just cut spending on it," crowd, but I am ABOSOLUTELY and without question a proponent of improving public school education in this country.
posted by shmegegge at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2010


These do not count as arguments for something, but abstractions that you personally value over the individual

Given that you're on the internet right now making this argument, I'm guessing that the local warlord rarely comes to your town and starts killing people one by one until his demands are met.

In the state of nature the individual (whoever that is) wouldn't last a week and making naive arguments on the internet is the abstraction.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:07 PM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


So then you've never shopped at WallyWorld?

So you've never noticed Wal-Mart employees depending on government assistance to get by?
* Reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance programs in California comes at a cost to the taxpayers of an estimated $86 million annually; this is comprised of $32 million in health related expenses and $54 million in other assistance.

* The families of Wal-Mart employees in California utilize an estimated 40 percent more in taxpayer-funded health care than the average for families of all large retail employees.

* The families of Wal-Mart employees use an estimated 38 percent more in other (non-health care) public assistance programs (such as food stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit, subsidized school lunches, and subsidized housing) than the average for families of all large retail employees.

* If other large California retailers adopted Wal-Mart’s wage and benefits standards, it would cost taxpayers an additional $410 million a year in public assistance to employees.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:07 PM on February 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


What words do you use in your head to justify taking my money

Who takes your money?

Once you pay your dues to the society that you live in via taxes, it isn't your money any more than it's my money. It's the public treasury, there's a public process for deciding how it's managed and allocated. You are of course welcome to participate in that, but that's by virtue of your citizenship, not by virtue of the fact that you held some amount of the money in the treasury for a while.
posted by weston at 1:17 PM on February 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Much as I hate to derail the derails in this thread - here are some thoughts on the actual subject of the post:

Property taxes: According to the 2009 Budget in Brief, the 4.944 mill rate that everyone is throwing around is only what the City collects from property taxes. The total property tax in Colorado Springs is 59.341 mills, which goes to schools (which are separate from the City), libraries, the county, and the water district. Property taxes make up less than 10% of the City's budget. School funding is going down too - but that budget is set by the state - not the city. The debate about education belongs in another thread.

$89,000 Per Employee: The City's salary info is online as well, so there's not much point arguing about hypothetical wages. There are only 17 positions that pay over $89,000 - the vast majority pay way less than that - down to $7.25 an hour for the lowest paid hourly worker. In the 2010 budget, total salaries and benefits are less than $150,000,000. If they were spending 89,000 on each one - they could only have 1685 employees in the entire city. I can't find anything showing the total number of employees in the city and I've reached the limit of the math I'm willing to do, but glancing at the number of positions listed in the salary schedule, there appear to be significantly more than that.

"The streetlights are just for show": My family's income and spending didn't go down in the last year, but that doesn't mean we haven't had to cut back. It just means the same money doesn't go as far as it did last year. Costs rise for government just like they do for individuals. The same level of funding doesn't guarantee that the same level of service is possible.
posted by Dojie at 1:27 PM on February 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


I can only imagine the pitch of the whining when we have to come to grips with some really difficult issues like possibly defaulting on some of the civil servants' pensions

"whining"?

Defaulting on pensions is essentially suddenly and unexpectedly yanking money out of someone's savings account. People should respond to it in pretty much the way you'd respond if you'd negotiated a salary with your employer, done your financial planning around it for several years, and then they came to you and said "Oh, by the way, we're in a bit of a financial spot, and we won't just be cutting your pay by 10%, we'll be taking back 25% of what we've paid you over the last few years right now."
posted by weston at 1:28 PM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Why shouldn't every expenditure be evaluated according to its return?

Because society is not Deloitte Touche. No matter how dearly some may wish it to be thus. This does not negate your point about having to live within one's means, whether as an individual or at the societal level, but that point does not seem to have been (for example) at the top of the federal government's priority list for at least the past ten years.
posted by blucevalo at 1:33 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somehow I doubt that the private business owner who made the comparison between the city's spending per employee and his own is counting anything beyond salary and benefits.

Obviously, because people who run private businesses never, ever lie.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:40 PM on February 2, 2010


as I mentioned up thread, the return on education isn't monetary because it contributes to lower crime rates.

While the return on education may be difficult to quantify, that doesn't excuse it from having to justify its costs in comparison to the other possible uses for that money. The lower crime rates that accompany public education should certainly be considered, but returns relative to cost is the only way we can evaluate a program. It's what we mean when we claim that a budget item is or is not "worth it". And that reasoning should be as explicit as possible, not dismissed under the claim that it is somehow unfair to judge a social program as one would a business.

-----

"whining"?

Defaulting on pensions is essentially suddenly and unexpectedly yanking money out of someone's savings account. People should respond to it in pretty much the way you'd respond if you'd negotiated a salary with your employer, done your financial planning around it for several years, and then they came to you and said "Oh, by the way, we're in a bit of a financial spot, and we won't just be cutting your pay by 10%, we'll be taking back 25% of what we've paid you over the last few years right now."


Granted, it's a less than sympathetic word, and I'm not interested in making light of anyone's pain. I called it whining because we will be reaching a point where there will be no other possibility that does not include a default. At some point we have to come to terms with what we can afford; necessity is not concerned with fair.

-----

Because society is not Deloitte Touche. No matter how dearly some may wish it to be thus. This does not negate your point about having to live within one's means, whether as an individual or at the societal level, but that point does not seem to have been (for example) at the top of the federal government's priority list for at least the past ten years.

I am not an apologist for the Republican refusal to budget (and you can go back a lot farther than ten years).
posted by BigSky at 1:41 PM on February 2, 2010


pla - 4.2 from the Russian judge. Decent troll, but rather obvious. You did get a few bites, though, so I can't give too low a score.

Malor - The cuts are purely showmanship, disproportionately falling on public-facing services. Unfortunately, this is a common tactic when towns run into a budget crisis.
So many of these discussions across the nation turn in to "Lazy government workers are overpaid" vs "If we don't raise taxes, the zombies will come!". The actual numbers take a backseat to the voters politics.

Which, really, is a shame. Because if we can't agree with our neighbors what's important and what's not, what hope do we have on a national level?
posted by madajb at 1:42 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Libertarians are like that planet from Star Trek where they all acted like gangsters in all aspects of their lives because someone left a book on the mafia behind, only instead the book the libertarians got their hands on was Investing for Dummies. In their mind, public schools and fire departments should be run like a private corporation, because EVERYTHING is ultimately a private corporation.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:42 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am not an apologist for the Republican refusal to budget (and you can go back a lot farther than ten years).

I didn't say you were -- and I said "at least the past ten years."
posted by blucevalo at 1:44 PM on February 2, 2010


This is a world of limited resources. Why shouldn't every expenditure be evaluated according to its return?

Because kids aren't widgets? How do you propose we evaluate the return that's different from how it's evaluated now?
posted by rtha at 1:47 PM on February 2, 2010


Kirth Gerson : So you've never noticed Wal-Mart employees depending on government assistance to get by?

If you look at the quote to which I responsed with that, "Pretty much every product and service other people want and need is available to them only because people somewhere paid taxes for education, wages, construction, etc", you'll see that I didn't say it about Walmart employees. When you buy crap made in 3rd-world sweatshops, "education" has little to do with "production" except insofar as more of it means products cost more. That doesn't make it "right", just sayin'.

And yes, I'll agree with you 100% about the evils of Walmart.


weston : You are of course welcome to participate in that, but that's by virtue of your citizenship, not by virtue of the fact that you held some amount of the money in the treasury for a while.

Ah, tricky response there. So I can play along as long as I play along. If I want to take my ball and go home, though, I should feel free - Oh, but leave the ball, kid.


octobersurprise : I'm not surprised to learn that the Google Ron Paul crowd thinks that they are capable of evaluating the investment return on a third-grader.

The problem here involves the rate of return, not the absolute return. I think even the most liberal of MeFites would agree that the US (and most Western nations' in general) education system has an amazing capacity to sink money while showing little change in outcomes.

I would, then, ask about the opposite direction - If we've gone so far past the "sweet" spot on the curve, that more money yields little to no improvement, how far can we go back up the curve? How much can we take out while showing little to no decrease in performance?


blucevalo : This does not negate your point about having to live within one's means, whether as an individual or at the societal level

Except, that seems like a key issue here - Our local, state, and even national governments can't maintain their present spending levels and live within their means. My own state currently has a 438 million dollar budget shortfall, a bit over 4% of the total budget. Historically, they will "solve" this by cutting aid to towns - Who then have exactly one option (short of disincorporating, which a growing number of towns have chosen to do).

Something needs to go, and the whole education thing came up not because I don't like education (again and again, I've said that I do believe in the value of education), but because we will have to cut things like roads and police and streetlights if we don't shrink the biggest slice of the pie down just a tad.
posted by pla at 1:48 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


For the record, Massachusetts is ranked more around the middle of the pack compared with other states in terms of the state tax burden.


Yes, but Rankedmorearoundthemiddleofthepackcomparedwithotherstatesintermsof thestatetaxburdenachussetts neither rhymes nor has that special peppy quality that makes such a great adhesive to the Dittohead lizard brain.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:52 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's one of the reasons we tax property, because without taxing property sufficiently you end up creating a landed aristocracy that leverages its control over valuable real estate to engage in rentierism, which has long been recognized as one of the most damaging and socially destabilizing forms of economic parasitism.

I wish I could favorite this more. Land ownership is the epitome of economic parasitism. More so than usury, gambling, pawn shops, even those crappy check-cashing places.

Drive down any Main St., USA. See any closed stores with boarded-up and/or broken windows? That's the wasted opportunity of land ownership: some owner that can't find a renter for the prices they demand, so the shops lay empty like fallow fields. And they can afford to do so, because property taxes are a pittance of that owner's obligations. Keep driving. See any empty homes, with torn-up siding and roofs caving in? Those homes could be housing families, but once again, the land owner demands too much for the market. So where are the market forces? Property taxes don't put any pressure on the owner to use it or lose it, and whole towns and cities suffer without recourse.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


Something needs to go, and the whole education thing came up not because I don't like education (again and again, I've said that I do believe in the value of education), but because we will have to cut things like roads and police and streetlights if we don't shrink the biggest slice of the pie down just a tad.

I don't disagree that when services are cut, hard choices are the order of the day. However, it bears consideration that public education has already been cut to the bone for years in many states and municipalities, and there comes a point when there's nothing left to cut by even a "tad" that won't entail making the kinds of decisions that you imply need to be made about who deserves (and doesn't deserve) to be "maximally educated."

Whether we like the way we look and the direction downward that we take as a society when we start making those decisions is another question.
posted by blucevalo at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2010


While the return on education may be difficult to quantify, that doesn't excuse it from having to justify its costs in comparison to the other possible uses for that money. The lower crime rates that accompany public education should certainly be considered, but returns relative to cost is the only way we can evaluate a program. It's what we mean when we claim that a budget item is or is not "worth it". And that reasoning should be as explicit as possible, not dismissed under the claim that it is somehow unfair to judge a social program as one would a business.

I'm interested in hearing what your thoughts are on evaluating school performance re: school budgets. This is basically THE question in education circles, and various attempts to link the two are in effect across the country in order to serve various agendas, from best serving students to milking the system to doing the least possible for the least money. I'd be very interested in hearing which systems you support, and which you don't, and why. Further, I'd be interested in hearing where you draw the line for "worth it" and "not worth it" and what consequences you see coming out of a given system, economically, socially and in terms of fostering proper education. Very specifically, I'd like to hear how you'd spend money in a hypothetical school district to maximize the "return on investment" of its students, and what this maximized return might look like.
posted by shmegegge at 2:07 PM on February 2, 2010


If I want to take my ball and go home, though, I should feel free

If such a thing were possible, yes. The problem is that it's nearly impossible to create such a place without either a large unclaimed reserve of raw land for hunter-gatherer or rothbardian-improvement activities, or resources essentially gleaned on top of a platform of social participation (or, alternatively, resources gained, personally or systemically, by activities that constitute a considerably more pale violation of economic liberty than taxation might).

Oh, but leave the ball, kid.

The idea that you brought anything like your own ball to the game in first place is what's tripping you up.
posted by weston at 2:13 PM on February 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


So where are the market forces? Property taxes don't put any pressure on the owner to use it or lose it, and whole towns and cities suffer without recourse.

My city is currently considering a "vacancy" or "blight" tax to address this very issue.
Not sure how it will shake out, but it's an interesting idea.
posted by madajb at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2010


I worked briefly at the Broadmoor. I don't think I have ever had a job quite like it. The orientation was like what I imagine joining a cult would be like, with the groupthink and brainwashing.

They paid me nothing, treated me like a criminal and then were shocked when I quit.

I'm not sure this is the model we want any city to adopt.
posted by Sheppagus at 3:02 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hey all, sorry to get into the thread late, but I live here, so I gotta go off. I have to much to say to put together a really cogent post, but I hope a person or two might benefit from the perspective of a local.

So, the town was founded primarily as a resort community, an image that was sealed with the construction of the Broadmoor hotel (managed by the aforementioned douchetruck Steve Bartolin.*) For the first half of the last century this worked great -- there was a lot of money pouring out of the hills, a lot of tourist business (whatever else we got, we got a lot of pretty, touristy shit), and a lot of great artists setting up shop. Pretty good place to live, especially in the lattermost point.

Post-war, we went the same unfortunate way as so many communities, with automobile-driven development vomiting ugly houses eastward onto the plains. My friends and I (hey janakf!) hang out in the old downtown and west-side, with a rather definite eastern limit to our travels. Great bar scene, cool museums (uh, except for the ones that are closing due to the budget cuts), reviving art scene, and we're mostly pretty insulated from the hyperchristian suburbanites most of you think of when (if?) you think of this town. I think this kind of segregation -- the hipster townies from the square suburbanites -- is common in a lot of stereotypically derided western towns, with Sacramento and Vegas coming immediately to mind.

As for the suburbanites and their politics:

First, an interesting point, is that Focus on the Family's move to COS was actually incentivized by the city all those years ago. Yeah, pretty hypocritical. Second, a lot of the city's budget goes into subsidizing further sprawly development, but that's a well-known issue in urban planning I won't go into here. Of more interest is the issue (mentioned upthread by octothorpe) that city council is a low-paid, part-time position. As muddgirl mentioned, this acts more to encourage graft than to prevent it, and the exact mechanism for that, at least in our community, is as follows:

At six grand a year, you aren't going to attract any grass-roots types, in it for the community. There's virtually no union presence here, the school districts are separate legal entities from the city, and most other such interests you can think of don't really exist enough to affect the politics of city council. So what you get are the people to whom the difference between reasonable compensation for a councilman and six grand is negligible, and who have their own agendas to push on the council. With only a couple exceptions, every councilman in the last decade has been invested in real estate development.

This is one of three reasons the measure failed: with a political structure like that, you get a huge scandal every couple of years, and one hit about this time last year. Whatever the voters' politics (and I'm getting to that), they aren't entirely stupid. Even if they were, the anti-tax guys had their work cut out for them: "The Mayor and City Council are incompetent and corrupt, and guess who has discretion over the money to be raised by this increase?"

Putting aside politics, I find that mentality somewhat understandable (I voted for the measure). As to those politics though, if there's at least one political party you hate, I'll let you guess which one consistently gets elected here. Outside of that system, though, and the de facto constitution of our city government, there really is a latent zeitgeist of libertarian teabagger fucknozzlery in the voting public. That'd be the second reason the measure failed. The third is a law passed several years ago (stupidly called the "tax-payers' bill of rights") and penned by a local celebrity among those jackasses, which dictated the phrasing of the measure on the ballot, to wit: SHALL CITY TAXES BE INCREASED $46,000,000 ANNUALLY BY INCREASING 2009 GENERAL PROPERTY TAX 6.00 MILLS, 1.00 ADDITIONAL MILL PER YEAR FOR FOUR YEARS, CONTINUING THEREAFTER, CONSTITUTING VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE? See, nothing in there about that it works out to eighty bucks per person per year, nothing about the services or budget items to be affected, nothing favorable at all. Even if libertarian tax-hating wasn't the prevailing political wind, they're fighting from a position they entrenched years ago.

Again, these are the people who share the east side of town with the god-nuts (interestingly, there isn't as much overlap between the two mentalities as you might think). Again, there's a lot of the community (like me and janakf) who hang out downtown being smartasses and trying our best to ignore them and hate the judgment that descends on us when we have to tell someone where we're from.

But, all that being said, it failed, and it failed hard, and now we get to be Detroit in ten years. I'm affected personally in that I take the bus between my University and downtown. It wasn't very good to begin with, and now has dropped all evening and weekend service with the failure of this measure. I've started looking pretty hard at other places to live. Again, I don't really have a point to this whole diatribe, but I wanted to throw some light on what actually happened, and maybe stick up my hand for "but not everyone here is a libertarian christian moron." Anyone who actually read this far, I hope you maybe learned something.

Oh, and FWIW I'm anti-streetlight.

* While I can't speak to the number of illegal immigrants they employ back-of-the-house, I can say that most of the waitstaff and housekeeping labor are Bosnian and Polish, housed on-site on fixed-length contracts above-the-board. You know, one of those deals.
posted by 7segment at 3:39 PM on February 2, 2010 [19 favorites]


I'm interested in hearing what your thoughts are on evaluating school performance re: school budgets. This is basically THE question in education circles, and various attempts to link the two are in effect across the country in order to serve various agendas, from best serving students to milking the system to doing the least possible for the least money. I'd be very interested in hearing which systems you support, and which you don't, and why. Further, I'd be interested in hearing where you draw the line for "worth it" and "not worth it" and what consequences you see coming out of a given system, economically, socially and in terms of fostering proper education. Very specifically, I'd like to hear how you'd spend money in a hypothetical school district to maximize the "return on investment" of its students, and what this maximized return might look like.

This is a pretty big question and I'm not looking to write a book. And since I am not much of a supporter of public education, my preferences are going to be unpalatable to most here, which will take us further afield. Furthermore I do not have an inventory of all the budgetary costs, nor do I know what alternate programs could have been funded with that money. But I'll give you a small list of some options worth investigating, and include an example where the money spent is framed in terms of its opportunity cost.

First, eliminate the Department of Education, and only partly for budgetary reasons. The more important reason is that there is no provision for it in the Constitution. Then provide parents with vouchers for school choice which would increase local control of schools, quicken the feedback from parents to the school system and possibly allow for a tax cut. Approximately 50% of our education dollars are spent in the class room. Reducing the number of bureaucrats and administrators in the system would free up funds to either be returned to the tax payers or added to the amount spent in the classroom. Let's say they were returned to the tax payer. A study by Christina Romer estimated that each dollar given back in tax cuts would likely raise GDP by three. GDP and unemployment are directly related - it isn't a stable relationship, but we can expect improvement in our rate of employment as real GDP grows. So, if we were to spend any money freed up by going to a voucher system part of the opportunity cost would show up as fewer jobs. Obviously this is a somewhat fanciful example, I don't think that there is so much waste in public education that we would see a substantial increase in GDP by returning that money to the tax payer. While the money freed up by reducing the bureaucracy in education might make a minimal difference in GDP, it could make a very real difference in the budgets of prisons or state parks. But it illustrates how I would like to see the problem discussed - an explicit listing of trade offs. If we were willing to put the money back in the classroom, it's because we felt that we would get a better return doing so, than having it in the private sector where it would reduce unemployment, or in the budget for a state park, or wherever else. The key is talking about it as we can do either this or that, not in absolute terms - "we must have this".

Here are some other areas where I suspect that the funds used in providing the services would bring a better return if they were spent elsewhere, or returned: cut the last two or three years of high school, cut most of the funding for arts, music and sports programs, larger class sizes, and not network every last school.

A good starting place for determining "worth it" and "not worth it" is here. SAT scores certainly have their limitations, but his productivity ratio is worth looking at. And I also find his arguments pronouncing bi-lingual education and smaller class sizes as "not worth it", to be persuasive.
posted by BigSky at 4:18 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The public pools are closing, as are the museums. They've already removed trash cans from the park and locked the bathrooms permanently. The parks aren't going to be watered. This summer is going to be a hoot. The homeless camps along the river are growing larger each day. My students at the community college can't get to class because the bus schedules have been decimated. My street has not been plowed once this winter. Our downtown is full of empty storefronts. I know that street lamps are important, but I'm getting to the point where I don't want to leave the fucking house. Which I can't sell because no one in their right mind would want to move here.

This is a beautiful city, and it's being destroyed by a group of dimwitted fuckwads who don't see a connection between taxes and a nice city, and it's pissing me off so much. Maybe I just need to get my own McMansion in one of the north subdivision, set the big screen tv to fox news, spend my Sundays praying for the sodomites at New Life Church, and paint "Fuck Obama" on the back of my truck (I've counted four vehicles this month with that pithy insight). That seems to be working out for a large segment of the population.

(and yes, I'm being insultingly stereotypical here, but this was such a wonderful place to live.)
posted by bibliowench at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2010 [14 favorites]


If only someone could explain to them that the freedom to live like an American isn't, well, free.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:59 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


abstractions that you personally value over the individual

You do realize your entire position rests on an abstraction, right?
posted by joe lisboa at 5:46 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I want to take my ball and go home, though, I should feel free

No one's stopping you from going anywhere you want, darling. Why is it that you rugged individualists always talk about "going Galt" and "taking your ball and going home" but you never go anywhere? I'd take you lot more seriously than I do if any of you ever walked your walk.

Here are some other areas where I suspect that the funds used in providing the services would bring a better return if they were spent elsewhere, or returned: cut the last two or three years of high school, cut most of the funding for arts, music and sports programs, larger class sizes, and not network every last school.

You still aren't capable of saying what that "return" would be. You have no idea; it's knee-jerk cant. People like you are mooches, bums. You've taken and benefited from publicly funded schools, and publicly funded roads, and publicly funded internet, and publicly funded health agencies, and every other amenity that the modern civilization provides while scheming to take it away from everyone else. And if it were up to your sort, you'd give nothing back. You aren't a citizen, you're a welfare queen.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:15 PM on February 2, 2010 [19 favorites]


Ironically, the first Google result for 'pla' is the Public Library Association.
posted by box at 6:23 PM on February 2, 2010


Interestingly, I happen to be sitting in Colorado Springs right now. (For no reason related to the article, just coincidentally.) It's my first time here.

The scenery is amazing, but the sprawl is something to behold. I'm from inside-the-Beltway N. VA, not exactly known for its natural beauty or anything, and even I was taken aback by just how shamelessly chain store and condo-ridden it is. I guess maybe it's amplified by the view you get in one direction (the mountains) versus in the other (sprawl as far as the eye can see). It's just unfortunate that "greenbelting" isn't a concept that has gained any traction in US urban development, except when it's already much too late.

At any rate, the people I've met here have all been very nice, very friendly place; can't really say anything negative there. Knowing that Focus on the Family is right across the street is a bit creepy, but so far nobody has tried to convert me; their athiestdar must be out of whack.

My temptation, based on previous personal experience in budget "crises" in other areas, is to be very suspicious of the cuts made by any government facing a citizen-sponsored budget decrease. It is pretty much a given that the first things to be cut will be punitive; when you're trying to wring money out of people, you don't cut the stuff they want cut, you cut the stuff they feel like they can't live without. This is small-town politics 101.

In the places I've lived, any resistance to tax increases (like not passing a budget referendum) was met immediately by threats to cut the school budget (where that budget was under the control of the town). This is because by threatening to cut the school budget, you can ensure a big turnout at the next referendum and get the budget you want.

In places where cutting the schools weren't an option (which it often isn't; in many cases the schools are managed independently from the rest of the government, and basically levy their own taxes), the fire and police departments were generally at the top of the list. Where those weren't an option (and in places where I've lived in rural New England, there often wasn't any police at the sub-state level and the Fire Department was volunteer and self-funding), it's almost always garbage collection next. Or libraries.

That's just how the game is played; it's a sort of Mexican standoff: voters know there's pork (or sometimes outright corruption) and this fuels the anti-tax rage, but the politicians have the power to cut essential services before the pork. Almost always, the anti-tax sentiment breaks before there's any real change made to the budgets; the stakes are just too high and otherwise-apolitical moderates start bothering to vote.

I guess it's possible, in theory, that the Colorado Springs budget is totally, completely, 100% devoid of fat and there's no way that they could ever meet the new, lower revenue without cutting essential services, and the proposed cuts are being made regrettably and as a complete last resort. But it's very unlikely; that sort of cooperation just doesn't happen in heated, nasty, confrontational budget debates. It always, as far as I've seen, turns into political trench warfare, no quarter given.

That doesn't mean I think the anti-taxers are right. They're not; they're being stupid. It's irresponsible to just choke off government, even if you think it's corrupt and wasteful, no matter how satisfying it may seem: in its death throes, there's likely to be a lot of stuff broken. Better instead to run your own candidates, elect them, and then do the spending cuts and tax cuts together. Just working on the tax-cut side is both irresponsible and strategically shortsighted: irresponsible because even in the best case, it's likely to cause a lot of pain before the cuts you want are realized; strategically stupid because it hands a huge weapon to your political enemies, who can then whip the voters and blame you for the pain. Dumbassery all around.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:23 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


joe lisboa : You do realize your entire position rests on an abstraction, right?

Believe it or not, I do - But fiat currency works a hell of a lot more conveniently than going around trading slabs of jerky.

And I say that as someone who does frequently trade his labor for goods (1, you can't get blood from a stone; and 2, harder for Uncle Sam to extract "his" cut of "my" time when it goes straight into my stomach).


box : Ironically, the first Google result for 'pla' is the Public Library Association.

Totally irrelevantly, I entirely support publicly-funded libraries. For the 17th(?) time, I firmly believe in education (and not just the failing "system" we have in the US). I just don't seem to have the same hesitation as the rest of you to make "hard" choices - And those include choices that don't work out in my favor.

But thank you for affirming my choice of online handles, so many years ago - a TLA has so many possible interpretations that it has zero value in identifying me. It somewhat creeps me out that you tried (though honestly, I have no delusion that I have anything even remotely resembling "true" anonymity online), but I expect no less, sadly.

I've really never understood that, personally. I take my conversation-partners entirely at face value; If you present your arguments well and write in something resembling basic English grammar, I'll take you seriously and you may sway my opinion (or, I presume, I may sway yours). But to some people, it really matters whether they talk to Mother Theresa or Fred Phelps. Trust me (though you have no reason to) - I count as a nobody. You've never heard of me, my major contributions to society only mean anything to the hardest-core of geeks and the companies who have profited from my skills, and yes, I do talk like this everywhere I post under a variety of handles (though I have no desire to have anyone automatically link my accounts together, I don't role-play any false personas for the sake of my audience).


Kadin2048 : Better instead to run your own candidates, elect them, and then do the spending cuts and tax cuts together.

Some of us, though, 100% seriously do not believe government gives the least damn about the opinions of The People. Nor do we have much faith in the election process, beyond a somewhat pessimistic acceptance that those same People will vote for whomever the talking heads tell them to - And all the better if you have two sets of talking heads apparently at odds with one another, when they really all want the exact same thing. No, nothing so elaborate as a conspiracy - Simple primate group behavior.

posted by pla at 6:53 PM on February 2, 2010


I've lived in Colorado Springs for 40 years. I was born here.

I voted for TABOR but have since regretted it. I voted for the tax increases, but was outvoted.
Back before the election, in the city parks, they closed all the public bathrooms. The strange thing was, they didn't just lock them, or put a old CLOSED signs on them, They locked them and installed brand new printed up signs that said, "This Bathroom Is Closed Due To Budget Restrictions"

How the hell did they have money to print up brand new signs admonishing the public for not paying for parks services? I assume that a city parks and rec. employee had to come out and install them, one on each bathroom door, but they couldn't empty the trash can that is sitting right next to said bathrooms.

It's a Washington Monument Gambit. It makes me so mad that I don't want to give them any more money, because of the tactics they use to blackmail the public. Fuck them. I guess that fucks me, too, but this town has had it's own agenda which goes against what I believe in. The city council and mayor are in the pockets of developers, their solution to the growing homeless camp sprouting up along the creek is to throw the trespassers in jail. This city is full of corruption and kickback taking deals. It makes me sick.
I can't in good conscience give them what they want, because I know what will happen. It'll get sucked into restarting the police helicopter program instead of streets and parks. It always does.
posted by Balisong at 6:59 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Just to clarify, pla, I didn't google your username in an effort to stalk you or some damn thing--I already knew the PLA was the first 'pla,' I just had to make sure, y'know?)
posted by box at 7:06 PM on February 2, 2010


Anybody who hasn't gone line by line through the city's budget (not just at the spending category level, which doesn't offer a whole lot of information) to see how much fat there actually is in there, probably shouldn't let themselves get too self-righteously outraged about that budget. Sorry, but that's what I think. If you're prepared to do it, let me know what you find.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:06 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


But fiat currency works a hell of a lot more conveniently than going around trading slabs of jerky.

I meant your invocation of "the individual" is an abstraction, obviously. Look, I know you mean well. I mean that. But I used to be you. I'm not going to waste either of our time. I wish you the best and hope you come to see that "externalities" are precisely what make life worth living. Cheers.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:08 PM on February 2, 2010


(I like beer, but I'll bet you a round the first Google result for IPA is still International Phonetic Alphabet.)
posted by box at 7:19 PM on February 2, 2010


(I like beer, but I'll bet you a round the first Google result for IPA is still International Phonetic Alphabet.)

I'll take that bet. But only because I Prefer Alcohol. Specifically: India Pale Ale.

posted by joe lisboa at 7:26 PM on February 2, 2010


Anybody who hasn't gone line by line through the city's budget (not just at the spending category level, which doesn't offer a whole lot of information) to see how much fat there actually is in there, probably shouldn't let themselves get too self-righteously outraged about that budget.

I tried, actually, this morning, but all I could find was the previously linked "budget page" which doesn't really have detailed information.
Perhaps someone else has better google-fu on their homepage.
posted by madajb at 7:33 PM on February 2, 2010


They locked them and installed brand new printed up signs that said, "This Bathroom Is Closed Due To Budget Restrictions"

Nice little twist of the knife there.
posted by madajb at 7:34 PM on February 2, 2010


box : Just to clarify, pla, I didn't google your username in an effort to stalk you or some damn thing

Sorry, I may have overreacted a bit there. :)

But what I said still holds true - I do find it odd how much people care about "who" they talk to online.
posted by pla at 7:47 PM on February 2, 2010


(No biggie, and so do I. (I'm having a New Belgium Ranger IPA as we speak--not bad, though I can't help but wonder why they waited so long. Wow, this is like, a derail of a derail of a derail. Maybe I need some more small tags to go with these parentheses.))
posted by box at 7:58 PM on February 2, 2010


pla: Yeah, to a certain extent I can understand the feeling. And at a Federal there is probably a lot of truth to it. However, it is not borne out by my experience in small town, local government elections.

There aren't any "talking heads" telling people who to vote for Board of Selectman or Board of Ed, at least in the places I grew up. Winning an election was basically a function of being more well-known than the other guy. Which does breed a sort of petit aristocracy, but it's one with a pretty low barrier to entry. (Join pretty much any civic organization and you're in, unless it's a really hotly-contested race.) It's amazing how much day-to-day power these penny-ante offices have in small towns; something like Planning and Zoning Commission, for instance, can make a huge difference in controlling development, and many of the vacancies in places where I've lived go uncontested.

That's always struck me of one of the bigger benefits of living in a small, rural town, in the times when I've had the opportunity to live in them: in addition to simply having less government in your life in general (my experience is that the intrusiveness of government is directly proportional to population density), what government there is has a low barrier to entry. Of course, the downside is often a near to complete lack of jobs, hence why I reluctantly relocated to the outskirts of a city, but nice places to live if you can make the economics work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:04 PM on February 2, 2010


Detailed Expenditures

There's not much new beyond what was in the table I posted above.

Streetlights being shut off is saving maybe $25,000 total. Snow removal reduction by 18% is saving $70,000.

City Council Civilian Salaries and Benefits are increasing 277%, nearly $180,000, because of a headcount increase.

Police, despite a small headcount reduction, is increasing total Civilian Salaries by 10%, or over $1,000,000, and total Uniform Salaries by 5%, or almost $1,800,000. The Pension Plan expenditure is increasing 30%, $1,700,000.
posted by FuManchu at 8:14 PM on February 2, 2010


Oops, the 10% and 5% increases in salaries are for the remaining headcount. So ex-reduction and ex-pension, for the remaining personnel, the Police Salary and Benefits increased 5.6%, almost $4,000,000.
posted by FuManchu at 8:32 PM on February 2, 2010


And since I am not much of a supporter of public education, my preferences are going to be unpalatable to most here, which will take us further afield.

which is true. I'm not sure whether it's a good idea to get further into your comment, because it (and other things i've pursued in this thread) would be a derail.

on the other hand, I feel like it's not fair to ask for your input but not actually address it when you take the time to give it to me. so here I am. apologies to anyone who doesn't appreciate continuing this derail.

the truth is, yeah, your preferences are unpalatable. at least to me. and that sucks, because I don't think we're going to get anywhere with this that isn't basically circular.

one way to put it as succinctly as possible is to say that when someone says that they'd like to see money taken out of public education in order to put more money into prisons, my head pops clean off my neck, my hands turn into convulsive fists and my disembodied head shoots fire from every available orifice, including the two new ones created by my eyeballs vacating my sockets.

once I calm down, I'm more reasonable, but still fundamentally unable to see what reason anyone could possibly have for doing this. studies have shown, in overwhelming numbers, that education lowers crime rates, and that smaller class sizes improve education. that anyone would prefer less educated criminals in greater numbers in more prisons is mind boggling to me. I cannot fathom any motivation for it besides a general distaste for the poor and a desire not only to see them imprisoned, but to facilitate their steady path to imprisonment. While my head is disembodied and spitting flame, I immediately assume that this IS your motivation. once I'm re-headed and more reasonable, I assume that that's not really your motivation, and I basically am left scratching my head and wondering what on earth you could possibly see as the benefit for this scenario. it doesn't even lower your taxes without the tax cuts you acknowledge might be better spent on the prisons (and parks). so yeah, it thoroughly confuses me.

I mean, I get that you're talking about taking money out by getting rid of "bureaucrats and administrators," but this phrase in this context is basically empty of actual meaning, and assumes an easily identifiable bureaucratic waste that is immediately and simply severed by just getting rid of "the bureaucrats," as though anyone caught filing something instead of holding a chalkboard pointer is unnecessary. further, it seems to assume that the best place to clear out the bureaucrats is in education, almost directly in opposition to prisons, which... again: disembodied flaming head, etc...

at some point, I start thinking "but wouldn't this ruin the education for your own kids?" and then i recall your voucher idea, and i have to admit that I don't know what you mean by "vouchers," here. like, "good for one year of education?" what is this? the nearest I can figure is that it's basically a way to say "this will pay for your child's education wherever you can get the child accepted." which, if there's a severe difference in school quality in a given area means that the rich can get their kids into the nicer school in the various ways that wealth allows, while the poor kids don't get in and I start hearing the old refrain again: fuck you, I got mine.

two more minor things: the SATs don't just have their limitations. the SATs are limitations, at least if you're poor. saying that this is a good way to judge the effectiveness of a school's system is essentially the same thing as saying "I like this system, because it only fucks the poor kids, and who cares about them." I'm pretty sure that's not what you're trying to say, but damn if a lot of what you're proposing here doesn't come out with just that conclusion.

thing 2: First, eliminate the Department of Education, and only partly for budgetary reasons. The more important reason is that there is no provision for it in the Constitution.

I don't understand this. Is there an exhaustive list of "things which are not provided for in the constitution" that you have? what else is on that list, and should everything on it be eliminated? why? this comes across to me like saying "we should eliminate breathable air because it's composed of various gases." i suppose it's technically true, but the conclusion does not follow the premise, near as I can tell.

so there you go. I don't hold out much hope for us doing more than repeating ourselves and agreeing to disagree, but there you go.
posted by shmegegge at 8:43 PM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


oh I forgot one other thing:

A study by Christina Romer estimated that each dollar given back in tax cuts would likely raise GDP by three. GDP and unemployment are directly related - it isn't a stable relationship, but we can expect improvement in our rate of employment as real GDP grows.

and looking at the past few years, we can see that the tax cut>GDP>employment raise chain works approximately how well?
posted by shmegegge at 8:48 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I cannot fathom any motivation for it besides a general distaste for the poor and a desire not only to see them imprisoned, but to facilitate their steady path to imprisonment.

Dinesh D'Souza has argued against public education because he wants his children to have the greatest possible advantages over all other children. Since he can afford to send his children to private schools, he doesn't want tax money spent on giving the underclass an education that can make them even slightly competitive. Shuttling the intelligent poor into prisons removes even those who might bootstrap themselves into a competitive position with his get.

He doesn't care what sort of savage ruins are the result of those policies, so long as he and his are on the top of the garbage heap.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:55 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


all i've got to say is that libertarians are going to have a hell of a time convincing the next generation of their philosophy if they don't know how to read
posted by pyramid termite at 12:38 AM on February 3, 2010


shmegegge,

I think you're looking at a few statements out of context. Let me flesh them out a little and they may make a bit more sense.

I can figure is that it's basically a way to say "this will pay for your child's education wherever you can get the child accepted." which, if there's a severe difference in school quality in a given area means that the rich can get their kids into the nicer school in the various ways that wealth allows, while the poor kids don't get in and I start hearing the old refrain again: fuck you, I got mine.

That is a voucher system. You can read more about it at Milton and Rose Friedman's Foundation page, and I hope you do as you seem to think any libertarian policy or privatization initiative is about saying "Fuck you" to the poor. It isn't. It's about creating avenues for feedback from consumers by giving them the power to choose. No doubt you're aware that there is a disparity between the quality of education available to the rich and the poor. Which group do you think is less pleased with their child's education provider? If you were an entrepreneur looking to open a school, which economic strata would provide the easiest competition? If a number of small private schools opened up near a large government school, what would the government school have to do to maintain its enrollment? Wouldn't it have to provide a level of education that is at least equal to the local private schools who are also accepting students at the cost of one per voucher? This is a rapid route to upgrading the schools in the vicinity of the poor.

The reason I mention getting rid of bureaucrats and administrators in public education is because that would be one of the benefits in going with a voucher system, from an interview with Milton Friedman, "We know that in government schools not much more than half of the money spent goes to the classroom. Almost half goes to administrators, bureaucrats, and the like. In private schools, a much larger fraction goes to the classroom." So, by giving parents a credit voucher for them to spend at the school of their choice, we could decentralize the school system, reduce the administrative staff, and free up some cash.

While I think this plan merits more attention, my main point in bringing it up was to use this hypothetical "freed up cash" to talk about how one might evaluate the various ways it could be spent. I didn't advocate taking classroom dollars away from public education and putting it in the prisons. What I said was that before this hypothetical bunch of money should be turned over to be spent on education, we should look at the alternate ways this money could be spent and make sure that the value we could reasonably expect from spending it on education would out weigh (and this is a subjective determination) the value we could expect from returning it to the tax payer, which is probably a good baseline for all these comparisons, and the value we could expect from spending it elsewhere, e.g. prisons. And even though this isn't germane, I wasn't thinking that we could increase funding to Corrections so that we could build more prisons. While I would very much like to reduce the size of government, I do also recognize that we have some obligations to those in the custody of our prisons (healthcare) and in addition, some money spent there may help curb recidivism (literacy and vocational training). Of course one could answer that the best way to save money here is not to lock up so many people to begin with, and I would agree, but this is drifting far off course, and it was never intended to be about prisons anyway, but rather opportunity cost and evaluating the return received.

As for the SAT, you aren't looking at the context in which it was mentioned. Saying that "this is a good way to judge the effectiveness of a school's system is essentially the same thing as saying 'I like this system, because it only fucks the poor kids, and who cares about them.'" is a very uncharitable reading - you're right, that's not what I meant. The question, and I admit it's not much of a question, of whether or not the SAT is a fair metric across class and race lines is moot. The page I linked to isn't comparing one racial or social group to another. It's looking at a thirty five year trend of SAT scores and comparing that to dollars spent per student. As long as you admit that there is some correlation, however flawed, between SAT scores and educational achievement, then you must also recognize that our increased investment in public education has not delivered value. While judging return and the value of one social program versus another is largely subjective, the Education section of the Grandfather's Economic Report, linked above, is some of the best work I've seen on evaluating our spending.

And as for the Constitution... Well, maybe we can leave that for next time.

-----

You still aren't capable of saying what that "return" would be. You have no idea; it's knee-jerk cant. People like you are mooches, bums. You've taken and benefited from publicly funded schools, and publicly funded roads, and publicly funded internet, and publicly funded health agencies, and every other amenity that the modern civilization provides while scheming to take it away from everyone else. And if it were up to your sort, you'd give nothing back. You aren't a citizen, you're a welfare queen.

Jeepers!

Did you think I was going to provide a spreadsheet showing how to bring in an additional $.31 on each $1.00 invested in education? What the 'return' would be? What are you talking about? The return is the results. What else could it be? But never mind, this isn't a discussion, you're having an onanistic fit. I get it dude, you're the righteous one here.
posted by BigSky at 1:17 AM on February 3, 2010


all i've got to say is that libertarians are going to have a hell of a time convincing the next generation of their philosophy if they don't know how to read

I think the plan involves some kind of pantomime with money being rubbed on genitals, then clutched in a white knuckled wad while scuttling back and forth grunting. Oh yeah, no funding for elocution lessons either obviously.

That said, in all seriousness I think Big Sky is making some good arguments (not that I'm pigeonholing him as a libertarian).
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:28 AM on February 3, 2010


That is a voucher system. You can read more about it at Milton and Rose Friedman's Foundation page, and I hope you do as you seem to think any libertarian policy or privatization initiative is about saying "Fuck you" to the poor. It isn't.

Of course most Libertarians don't want to say "Fuck you" to the poor. What they want is to overturn a hundred years of social progress to return to a model that has been shown to screw the poor and do bad things to the middle classes. Most Libertarians are simply useful idiots in the process of screwing the less than ultra-rich.

Which group do you think is less pleased with their child's education provider?

The one that cares about education. Which is often correlated with wealth. Significant numbers of parents do not consider education (especially academic education) important. Which means they will be happy sending their kids to the nearest schools, the schools that provide the best childcare, or the schools with the lowest entry fees and highest chance of letting the kids earn money while at school. And it is these kids that the voucher system will screw.

Without a voucher system, the parents are unhappy with the education system - they join the school govenors and try to reform the school. With a voucher system, the parents that care about education take their kids out of the school and it is simply left to rot - with a lot of money being made from it because no one will care that it's a cut price education.

You're helping the parents that care most and their kids, granted. But those are precisely the kids that already don't need the help as the parents will give them help at home. And you're screwing the ones that do need it.
posted by Francis at 4:02 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.

Because Broadmoor pays their employees substantially less and provides more limited benefits. The Broadmoor also depends on city police, fire and medical response services for anything beyond a bar fight or trash fire. Maybe Steve would like to cut all ties to city services and build, staff and train his own complete professional fire and police departments? I wonder where his per-employee costs will be after that?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:07 AM on February 3, 2010


Did you think I was going to provide a spreadsheet showing how to bring in an additional $.31 on each $1.00 invested in education?

Well, yeah. You're the one who wants to demolish the whole system of public education, I thought you'd know what you want to replace it with, at least. Lacking that, you sound less like a school critic and more like some guy shouting "We don't need no education! We don't need no thought control!"

I get it dude, you're the righteous one here.

Righteouser than you, dude.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:51 AM on February 3, 2010


Since we are discussing schools now, what percent of schools budgets go to upgrading obsolete equipment; is that at least partly responsible for the increased spending? (I am thinking computers mainly, but possibly equipment used in science labs). If this is the case, this is a real benefit (for children that are going on to college or the work force after graduating) that is generally not measured in standardized testing.

Quick question for those who might know the data, is spending per student is up across the board or has it increase disproportionally for certain grade groups?
posted by batou_ at 5:54 AM on February 3, 2010


Quick question for those who might know the data, is spending per student is up across the board or has it increase disproportionally for certain grade groups?

In the schools near me, at least, the rise in costs can be largely attributed to providing things that schools simply didn't have when I was attending[1]:

ESL, school counselors, school "resource officers", diversity coordinators, curriculum coordinators, and yes, IT.

Sure, computer equipment is a significant cost, but the real growth is in personnel.

[1] Note that I am not judging the worthiness of any of these things, merely point out the growth in administative costs.
posted by madajb at 7:55 AM on February 3, 2010


I'm BEYOND being a libertarian "fuckwad" or whatever the term was used to describe us. I'm an anarcho-capitalist. What should happen (and very well could) in this case is very simple:

All the assets that the government can't operate under their "austere" budget should be SOLD. What a concept! When private businesses suddenly own property that their customers no longer want from them (and, Simon says, "When someone isn't willing to pay for it....they DON'T WANT IT FROM YOU!) they get rid of them. Parks, museums, streetlights, roads, whatever....SELL THEM! Private individuals or companies will buy them and either operate them in such a way that their cost will be less than the price people are willing to pay (some call that PRODUCTIVE!) or they will be converted to some other use which allows for that.

No doubt the commenters here hate (and rightly so) when conservatives try to impose their so-called "values" on them. What right to those who think having nice museums and parks is important have to FORCE others who DON'T think they are important to pay for them???
posted by sfla_law at 8:14 AM on February 3, 2010


I'm BEYOND being a libertarian "fuckwad" or whatever the term was used to describe us. I'm an anarcho-capitalist.

Yeah, man. I've been pan-handled by "anarcho-capitalist" dudes before.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:21 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


No doubt the commenters here hate (and rightly so) when conservatives try to impose their so-called "values" on them. What right to those who think having nice museums and parks is important have to FORCE others who DON'T think they are important to pay for them???

US Constitution, Section 8 - Powers of Congress

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States
posted by uri at 8:26 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Powers Of Congress
posted by The Whelk at 8:28 AM on February 3, 2010


Private individuals or companies will buy them and either operate them in such a way that their cost will be less than the price people are willing to pay (some call that PRODUCTIVE!) or they will be converted to some other use which allows for that.

I perfer to live in a reality-based world, thank you. I don't know where you're from that this sort of thing actually works, but send me a postcard!
posted by rtha at 8:35 AM on February 3, 2010



US Constitution, Section 8 - Powers of Congress

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States


@uri: I was speaking of a MORAL, NATURAL RIGHT, not a LEGAL right, to force someone ELSE to pay for something YOU want. If conservatives LEGALLY ban abortions, when they cite the legal statutes and court decisions that allow them to do so, surely you don't respond, "Oh, then the ban is okay."
posted by sfla_law at 8:44 AM on February 3, 2010


You can read more about it at Milton and Rose Friedman's Foundation page, and I hope you do as you seem to think any libertarian policy or privatization initiative is about saying "Fuck you" to the poor.

I won't lie, that certainly is the impression I keep getting every time I try to talk policy with libertarians. But I'd like to say that if I'm suffering from some kind of confirmation bias regarding libertarian policy, it's not conscious. When I ask for policy suggestions the way I did, it really is with the intention to hear it out.

so having checked you link, let me put it this way: the voucher system makes a few assumptions that are heavily mired in the standard mantra that privatization increases competition which increases the quality of the product. so let me address that notion. you say:

Wouldn't [the public school] have to provide a level of education that is at least equal to the local private schools who are also accepting students at the cost of one per voucher?

this assumes that widespread school choice adoption results in a manageable influx of quality private schools in all areas. there's not much reason to believe this would actually happen. and as I said earlier, enrollment at quality private schools is limited, and who gets accepted there will necessarily be subject to the same disparities that we currently experience. the truth is this: school vouchers are a cash handout to wealthy families that are already private schooling their children, and don't open opportunities to the disadvantaged because the private schools are already full up with the wealthy kids. on top of that, children left in a school that has had its students flee for a private institution find themselves with fewer funds per child as the state must provide transportation to the new school out of its education budget. I mean, hell, No Child Left Behind is a complete failure of a program, and the reason is the education discrepancy, despite school choice, and the method of judging school quality.

which gets us into the real problem here: so much of libertarian policy seems to say "fuck you, I got mine" because, at the end of the day, it keeps giving tax money back to wealthy families and failing to provide the support needed for poor families. school choice is no different, and it gets harder and harder to see this as a coincidence the more often it keeps happening.

which brings me to the next point, and believe it or not, back to the fpp: the problem with the quality of a public service is not related to your taxes. When Colorado Springs found that its local government was corrupt and they suspected them of padding their wallets by threatening to cut public services, they immediately worried about the tax increase instead of the corruption. why? they didn't REALLY think the funds would come directly out of administrative paychecks did they? of course they didn't. they just wanted the money. and did the money stop the corruption? no. and it's apparently not the first time they've had this go 'round, either. every time they get a tax cut, it comes out of services, then they relent, things go back to normal and the corruption continues. why is this? why don't they petition for campaign reform, and investigations into bribery and corruption? because reform=progressive=liberal=bad, and it doesn't write them a check. meanwhile their streets are dark and their parks are untended and will likely die by the summer.

the same is true for education. if you want better public education, fight for education reform. quit dicking around about your taxes. but at the end of the day, policies like this aren't about wanting better education. policies like this are for people who already like their child's private school education. they just don't want to pay for other people to go to public school, so this is a way to mask that as something more palatable. call it an uncharitable view if you want, but again: every. time. we hear about libertarian policy, it has this characteristic. there's only so long a body can hear it before it stops being a coincidence.
posted by shmegegge at 8:49 AM on February 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


I perfer to live in a reality-based world, thank you. I don't know where you're from that this sort of thing actually works, but send me a postcard!


@rtha: You're LIVING in it! :-) Look around you. Every year some businesses go OUT OF BUSINESS and sell off ALL their assets. Others just sell SOME of their assets. The assets that are sold are bought by other companies. With few exceptions, every business acquired everything it owns through voluntary purchases. This is no different than when, on a smaller level, some store has a sale on something because it's not selling and they need to move it out the door.

The new owners either change how the thing was managed (hence the sign, "Under New Management!) or convert it (e.g. changing a parking lot to an apartment building).

What don't you think works?
posted by sfla_law at 8:49 AM on February 3, 2010


pyramid termite: all i've got to say is that libertarians are going to have a hell of a time convincing the next generation of their philosophy if they don't know how to read

Rather the opposite, I'd say. Libertarianism and ignorance seem to go hand in hand very comfortably.
posted by rusty at 8:53 AM on February 3, 2010


@shmegegge


this assumes that widespread school choice adoption results in a manageable influx of quality private schools in all areas. there's not much reason to believe this would actually happen


Are you kidding me??? It's all about supply and demand. The HUGE influx of money powered by the CHOICE/POWER poor families will have on where to send their kids will attract tons of private schools to open up and compete for those dollars!

school vouchers are a cash handout to wealthy families that are already private schooling their children, and don't open opportunities to the disadvantaged

I'm sorry, but you are just wrong. You said it yourself: rich families ALREADY can send their kids to private school. They don't need a voucher. It's POOR families that will benefit! It's basically saying, "Here, poor family, is a check for $7000 which you can cash at any school you like." How can that NOT benefit them???
posted by sfla_law at 8:56 AM on February 3, 2010


Ima let you finish your derails . . . but I have to say something about this.

Police, despite a small headcount reduction, is increasing total Civilian Salaries by 10%, or over $1,000,000, and total Uniform Salaries by 5%, or almost $1,800,000. The Pension Plan expenditure is increasing 30%, $1,700,000.

Oops, the 10% and 5% increases in salaries are for the remaining headcount. So ex-reduction and ex-pension, for the remaining personnel, the Police Salary and Benefits increased 5.6%, almost $4,000,000.


I've been looking through the budget details and here are the salary numbers for police for the last three years:
Civilian Salaries
2007 - 11.4 (million)
2008 - 11.6
2009 - 11.1
2010 - 12.2
Uniform Salaries
2007 - 37.7
2008 - 38.3
2009 - 38.7
2010 - 40.6

Police department salaries have increased by almost $4 million in the last three years. That's just base salaries, not including overtime (also up), hazard pay (also up), pensions (up by another 3 million), or other benefits. This year, they've had layoffs, but they're still getting pay increases. Meanwhile, the salaries for almost every other category of employee have stayed the same or have been cut in that time.

I am not saying that police officers and firefighters don't need to be paid well. They have important and dangerous jobs and they should be well compensated for them. And it's entirely possible that some Colorado Springs city salaries have been higher than they should have been. But when city budgets have to be cut by millions of dollars, when people are losing jobs, when employees in other departments are seeing paycuts (again), when citizens are losing city services, a union that insists on pay increases is just repugnant.

Cuts to police and fire departments inspire a lot of public outrage, but it takes some pretty drastic reductions to other departments to get attention from citizens. Just as an example of the kinds of invisible cuts it takes to pay for $4 million extra dollars in police pay with less tax revenue, the Parks Forestry budgets for Tree Maintenance and Replacement went from about $270,000 in 2007 to $9,353 for 2010. That might get some attention when someone gets hurt, or a car gets crushed by an unhealthy tree, but until then, it's just one of the many areas that have been cut in the last several years without controversy.

This isn't just a Colorado Springs problem. A lot of cities are hurting right now even with tax increases. Public transit, parks, museums, and the like are not just luxuries. They have tremendous economic, health, environmental, and other community benefits. Cities that cut those services to pay for police officer raises are not just trimming fat - they're hurting their long-term health and growth.
posted by Dojie at 8:57 AM on February 3, 2010


I was speaking of a MORAL, NATURAL RIGHT, not a LEGAL right, to force someone ELSE to pay for something YOU want.

Bless your heart.

♪ He is the very model of a modern libertarian ♪
posted by Mayor West at 9:00 AM on February 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


As others have mentioned in this thread, I'm also living in a place afflicted by urban blight. On *my* planet, when a business goes out of business, the storefront often stays empty. The windows get tagged and scratched. Homeless people sleep in the doorways. The business that had been there probably didn't own the building, and the landlord wants to hold out until he can get what he thinks the rent should be. Only no one wants to or can pay that rent, so the place stays empty.

When I lived in Mount Pleasant in DC, we were about four blocks west of where the '68 riots had done some of their worst damage. Entire blocks - not just a store here or there, but blocks and blocks - of storefronts stayed burned out, unrenovated, and empty. Many of them turned into crack houses or homeless encampments. They stayed like that for more than 30 years.

The World Bank tried to force Bolivia to privatize their water supply system, under the assumption that local government was too inefficient and corrupt to handle it properly. Bechtel got the contract and promptly doubled or more the rates, which meant that fewer people had access to clean water. There were riots. The contracts were canceled. You can read more about it here.

Your view assumes a perfect and balanced relationship between supply and demand. On Planet Reality, that's not how things work.
posted by rtha at 9:01 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"...street lighting helps me not kill myself tripping over broken pavement walking home in the dark"

You should be driving home in an SUV, as God intended.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:07 AM on February 3, 2010


You said it yourself: rich families ALREADY can send their kids to private school. They don't need a voucher.

yes, they already send their kids to private school AND pay taxes on public education. school choice wants to take their taxes out of public schools, which will drain funds from those schools, and put it toward the private schools they're already attending so they don't pay extra to send their kids there. meanwhile the poor families who don't get into those schools see no benefit and have been seen to suffer under the system. read the links, dude. here's another.
posted by shmegegge at 9:16 AM on February 3, 2010


@rtha

The World Bank tried to force Bolivia to privatize their water supply system, under the assumption that local government was too inefficient and corrupt to handle it properly. Bechtel got the contract and promptly doubled or more the rates, which meant that fewer people had access to clean water....Your view assumes a perfect and balanced relationship between supply and demand. On Planet Reality, that's not how things work.

Maybe I'm just dense, but can you relate what happened to in Bolivia to what would happen if we had vouchers here in the US? It sounds like you're trying to say "A resource that was in government hands was privatized in Bolivia and that didn't work out well...so that means that if we privatize government schools here in the US, it won't work out well."

If that's what you're saying, I have a question: WHY didn't it work out well in Bolivia? It sounds as if they let ONE company initially buy up ALL the rights to a good that had no substitute. That would not be happening in a voucher system. Companies would compete and there would be no comparable barriers to entry as it would seem to be in the water supply market in Bolivia. Each parent individually could choose where to send their kids to school.
posted by sfla_law at 9:18 AM on February 3, 2010


Are you kidding me??? It's all about supply and demand. The HUGE influx of money powered by the CHOICE/POWER poor families will have on where to send their kids will attract tons of private schools to open up and compete for those dollars!

I just can't get into this with you right now. the problems with the "supply and demand solves everything" argument are so many and so well discussed everywhere else that they're frankly too much of a derail, even for me. it's just too naive and rose-colored a viewpoint to support in the real world.
posted by shmegegge at 9:18 AM on February 3, 2010


I was speaking of a MORAL, NATURAL RIGHT, not a LEGAL right,

Despite the highfalutin rhetoric of the revolutionary era, rights are ultimately really a legal concept, not a natural occurrence. You don't just find free-range rights roaming the countryside, untamed and wild.

No, in nature, people who want to gang together to attack you to steal the crops you've spent the entire growing season producing can and often will do so, and that is what's natural, and the airy subject of natural rights doesn't particularly factor into it.

Our meager legal rights, I'm afraid, are the only rights we're even remotely guaranteed, when all is said and done.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:23 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


@shmegegge

There are states that spend SIGNIFICANTLY more on education per pupil than the average private school in that state. The idea that poor families with a voucher worth THAT much will not be able to afford sending their child to a private school is simply not based on the facts. Read my link.
posted by sfla_law at 9:30 AM on February 3, 2010


I tried to send my kid to private school, but they won't take my company scrip as payment.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:35 AM on February 3, 2010


@saulgoodman

My point was that, in this type of political discussion, a LEGAL argument just citing to a law does not carry the day. We're beyond just trying to see if there is what is being done comports with the law. We're really asking, "Is the law right/just?"
posted by sfla_law at 9:35 AM on February 3, 2010


The idea that poor families with a voucher worth THAT much will not be able to afford sending their child to a private school is simply not based on the facts.

jesus christ. it's not about the value of the voucher. it's about the fact that private schools will accept endowments from wealthy families in exchange for their child's enrollment. the poor families will not be accepted.

i don't think i can do this with you anymore, sfla_law. shadow boxing is not my idea of fun.
posted by shmegegge at 9:40 AM on February 3, 2010


When someone isn't willing to pay for it....they DON'T WANT IT FROM YOU

But it's unjust for a child to go uneducated because her parents didn't want to pay for education.

And even if you don't care about that unjustly uneducated child, you should care that uneducated children are a drain on the entire society. Living in a country where all children receive a good education is well worth throwing a big chunk of money into the public pot, even if some of it gets wasted.
posted by straight at 9:49 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


sfla_law, there a hundred problems with the idea that private school vouchers programs can replace public schools. Here's one:

A quality private school will mandate only x number of kids per classroom (let's say it's 20). If there are 6 private elementary schools in a town which each have 3 twenty-kid kindergarten classrooms, that's 6 x 3 x 20 = 360 kindergarten slots.

If the town has 366 kindergartners, who has an incentive to create another class for only 6 paying students?

(There are lots of variations on this problem - maybe there's 6 school buildings that can each accommodate 1000 students. What happens if there's 6200 students? Who's going to build a 7th school for just 200 kids?)
posted by straight at 9:59 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm just dense, but can you relate what happened to in Bolivia to what would happen if we had vouchers here in the US?

When I talked about urban blight, I was addressing your position that businesses that go out of business will get their assets bought by another business. This isn't always how it works.

With the example of the privatization of water rights, I was addressing a broader notion that government-run = bad, inefficient, corrupt and private-company-run = cheaper, more efficient, and better for everyone. A little out of left field, perhaps, and not directly addressing the school voucher question, but still, I feel, apt.

But as to that, I haven't yet seen a study that says that vouchers work. Is there one?
posted by rtha at 10:29 AM on February 3, 2010


We're really asking, "Is the law right/just?"

That's a fine question, and worth asking. But unless you've got ideas about how to implement actual public policy in a world where the law ("everyone puts some money into the pot to pay for things that benefit the common good") doesn't exist, then the question is really only useful in the philosophical sense, rather than a real-world-where-people-live sense.
posted by rtha at 10:32 AM on February 3, 2010


The IMF/Bolivia example may not be a great one. While they did get a guaranteed profit (jobs like this are usually cost plus fixed fee), they usually neglect to mention the other conditions, which included paying down a massive debt that the system has previously incurred, extending water lines to previously unserved populations and maintenance that the government controlled system had neglected.
posted by electroboy at 10:42 AM on February 3, 2010


...and this is how it turned out.
posted by electroboy at 10:48 AM on February 3, 2010


All the assets that the government can't operate under their "austere" budget should be SOLD. What a concept! When private businesses suddenly own property that their customers no longer want from them…they get rid of them.

A government running a deficit and a business or household running a deficit are not comparable.

You should really understand this concept before continuing to comment in this fashion.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:59 AM on February 3, 2010


shmegegge,

I have read your links.

There's some concern that funds will drain out of the public schools as all the rich already have their kids in private school and with vouchers some of their tax equity would leave. Here's why I don't think that's a fair criticism, when we pay taxes, every household with school age children receives some equity in the form of their child having a place in the local school system. Despite some middle and upper class families forsaking that equity in order to send their child to a private school, every family is entitled to this service. A voucher system simply converts access to the school system into a monetary voucher. The credit in the voucher doesn't shift according to the amount of taxes paid, it's equal for everyone - the cost of one child's admission into the school system. Surely this is fair and meets the intent in the establishment of public education - access for everyone.

but at the end of the day, policies like this aren't about wanting better education. policies like this are for people who already like their child's private school education. they just don't want to pay for other people to go to public school, so this is a way to mask that as something more palatable.

There is no reduction in the equity that the low income families receive. Everyone is still paying for kids from low income families to go to school. No one is ducking out on a bill. Yes, families who are already sending their children to private school will receive a credit that reduces their cost, and everyone else gets what they've always gotten - the cost of one child's attendance at a government school.

Your claim that vouchers do nothing to help the poor is based on the belief that there is a limited supply of quality private schools and that these schools are "already full up with wealthy kids", is simply incompatible with what we know about privatization. From Milton Friedman's paper at the Cato Institute, "We know from the experience of every other industry how imaginative competitive free enterprise can be, what new products and services can be introduced, how driven it is to satisfy the customers--that is what we need in education. We know how the telephone industry has been revolutionized by opening it to competition; how fax has begun to undermine the postal monopoly in first-class mail; how UPS, Federal Express and many other private enterprises have transformed package and message delivery and, on the strictly private level, how competition from Japan has transformed the domestic automobile industry."

Entrepreneurs will want to open private schools in low income areas and out perform the local government school at the same cost per child. We know this because we're appealing to their own self-interest; they can make money by doing so.

I am ignoring the transportation issue with No Child Left Behind since I do not see that as a necessary part of a voucher system, and I'm not arguing for No Child Left Behind.

jesus christ. it's not about the value of the voucher. it's about the fact that private schools will accept endowments from wealthy families in exchange for their child's enrollment. the poor families will not be accepted.

There is no absolute limit on the number of private schools. The supply of private schools will increase, or not, to meet the level of demand. It's curious that when it comes to taxes, you do not seem very concerned with how our limited resources are apportioned out, but when it comes to changing (not increasing) the spending on education you foresee a shortage of schools with a brand new market, a tidal wave of consumers looking to make a choice, and a huge amount of equity freed up from the decentralization of a major government bureaucracy.

-----

The one that cares about education. Which is often correlated with wealth. Significant numbers of parents do not consider education (especially academic education) important. Which means they will be happy sending their kids to the nearest schools, the schools that provide the best childcare, or the schools with the lowest entry fees and highest chance of letting the kids earn money while at school. And it is these kids that the voucher system will screw.

This is rather condescending. You're implying that you, or the experts that you agree with, know what's best for someone else's family. How about letting them make their own decisions?

-----

Well, yeah. You're the one who wants to demolish the whole system of public education, I thought you'd know what you want to replace it with, at least. Lacking that, you sound less like a school critic and more like some guy shouting "We don't need no education! We don't need no thought control!"

No, I haven't said anything about demolishing the whole system of public education. The section you quoted which seemed to provoke such offense, was not a cry for whole scale destruction. They're not even particularly radical suggestions for reevaluating the budget. In the recent past, state legislators in Utah and New Hampshire have looked at shortening high school.
posted by BigSky at 11:49 AM on February 3, 2010


I played a hell of a lot of Sim City 3000, and my people loved public transit, pedestrian friendly streets, no highways -- and taxes in the 7-12% area, enough to keep me well in the black and support lots of public transit.

I always figured the designers pinkos who couldn't drive, just like me.
posted by jb at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2010


Vouchers are a bad idea because they allow segregation -- by religion or by ideology, or just by levels of parental involvement. Poor families aren't just money poor, many are also time poor, and would probably just end up defaulting to the public schools.

Public education is best when it is diverse. Children from educated families raise the expecations and improve the educational experience of children from less educated families, without any harm to their own educational experience or acheivements. Children from different ethnic and/or religious backgrounds play together and learn tolerance and understanding of each others' cultural differences. (Why any country with sectarian violence allows school segregation utterly baffles me -- I would have desegregated the Northern Irish and Israeli school systems decades ago with the express purpose of breaking down sectarian divisions).

And why pay people to flee a sinking boat, leaving others to drown, when you can just fix the damn boat? Public education can be excellent, if you do it right. The city of Toronto has an extremely diverse population with many people speaking English as a second language and a great deal of poverty. It also has one of the finest public school systems I've ever observed. It has a good public school system because poverty in Toronto is not as geographically concentrated as elsewhere (a concious effort), and because the school system is adequately funded such that classes are only 25-30 children. It's not perfect -- no system is. But I got out of this public system with better university preparation and exposure to fewer drugs than my friend who attended a prestigious private school.

A good public education system is what marks out a civilized society from a non-civilized.

---------------

On a different note, I was listening to Planet Money talk about Denmark, which has the highest tax burden per person in the whole world. I want to move there now -- it sounds like a lovely place to live.
posted by jb at 12:09 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


SC3K's ability to micro-manage down to the block level allowed me to put actual Jane Jacob-y policies in action, such as having a small park every 5 blocks and smaller streets. I have to say, it worked really well.

(That and moving all the heavy industry to another "town" and then buying all the power like the other town was a puppet-state run by a nominal mayor-for-life)
posted by The Whelk at 12:10 PM on February 3, 2010


The credit in the voucher doesn't shift according to the amount of taxes paid, it's equal for everyone - the cost of one child's admission into the school system. Surely this is fair and meets the intent in the establishment of public education - access for everyone.

see the point about who gets into what schools. again, it's not about the value of the voucher, although maybe it is at that? but you address this later:

There is no absolute limit on the number of private schools.

this is a silly argument. the entire idea behind school choice is that there will be some market impetus to open private schools, either driving public schools into closure or forcing them to improve by some so-far-unproven metric. but there's no reason to believe that people will step in to provide the education that's necessary everywhere. again, this is the classic line of argument that defaults to Keynes unwaveringly without acknowledging the fact that classic "supply and demand" economics is proven to be too simplistic to rely on as wholly as you, and all libertarians, seem to. to repeat: there is no reason to believe that enterprising educators will step up to found private schools everywhere they'd be needed to improve on poor public school education.

Entrepreneurs will want to open private schools in low income areas and out perform the local government school at the same cost per child. We know this because we're appealing to their own self-interest; they can make money by doing so.

citation? you're basically channeling Rand here, whose theories on human behavior and market forces are so laughably inaccurate that they don't need to be gone over again, here. There is simply nothing that proves this "if you build it they will come" wishful thinking.

further, even in the fantasy world where the precise number of schools needed are opened up in every school district, there's no guarantee that they will all be quality institutions, because at the end of the day not all consumers are discerning and anyone who can't get into the top tier school will have to go SOMEWHERE. there won't be school after school after school starting up and failing over and over again in the neighborhood until they're all perfect, because no one's going to simply keep their kids out of school for a year to prove a point. that's not how it works when you're talking about things people need instead of want. Just as McDonald's isn't the best food you can buy, though it is one of the most successful, education doesn't have to be the best you can buy to be successful. and who gets into the best school, instead of one of the other ones? the wealthy.

I'm sorry, but vouchers are not a benefit to the poor. they're just a tax cut to the wealthy.

at this point, we're getting the circular discussion movement I anticipated. you're saying "supply and demand will take care of everything" and I'm saying "supply and demand doesn't take care of everything," and neither of us is going to change our minds. you'll keep posting links to promotional material from dedicated libertarians making claims like "we've seen how competition improves other markets" and I'll keep posting news articles about how these theories consistently forget to consider all the things that go wrong with unfettered privatized services, especially for the unfortunate and disenfranchised.

so let me put it to you this way: instead of trying to make everyone go to private school, why don't you focus on improving public education? why do you support the version of this policy that gives you a tax break instead of researching ways to make public education higher quality everywhere so that we don't need private schools at all?
posted by shmegegge at 12:48 PM on February 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Charter schools are actually quite popular. It's not exactly vouchers, but it is proof that people will open schools that compete with public schools. We have three in my neighborhood.
posted by electroboy at 12:58 PM on February 3, 2010


SimCity is designed to reward Jane Jacobs-style development - Will Wright drew a lot of inspiration from her work, and that of Chris Alexander, when creating it. It's great at showing that congestion cannot be eliminated from large cities without mass transit. Try to fix it with freeways alone, and eventually you're devoting far more land to roads than you are to taxable property. As it is in Jacobs, and in life.
posted by WPW at 1:00 PM on February 3, 2010


From the first sentence of the charter schools link:

Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools in the United States that receive public money

Charter schools are opened by people who don't have to put up a ton of their own money to open a school, or rely on financially unstable families to come up with tuition payments because they get public money. They can get private funding, of course....but so can public schools (via the PTA, for example).
posted by rtha at 1:15 PM on February 3, 2010


Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools in the United States that receive public money

What do you think vouchers are?
posted by electroboy at 1:30 PM on February 3, 2010


again, this is the classic line of argument that defaults to Keynes unwaveringly without acknowledging the fact that classic "supply and demand" economics is proven to be too simplistic to rely on as wholly as you, and all libertarians, seem to. to repeat: there is no reason to believe that enterprising educators will step up to found private schools everywhere they'd be needed to improve on poor public school education.

...

citation? you're basically channeling Rand here, whose theories on human behavior and market forces are so laughably inaccurate that they don't need to be gone over again, here. There is simply nothing that proves this "if you build it they will come" wishful thinking.


This isn't "if you build it they will come" but rather "if you make opportunity available, people will take advantage of it". Incentives matter, and it's because of the incentives that we have every reason to expect entrepreneurs to open new private schools. It's easy to state that classic "supply and demand" economics has been proven to be too simplistic to rely on, but do you have any support for that claim?

there won't be school after school after school starting up and failing over and over again in the neighborhood until they're all perfect, because no one's going to simply keep their kids out of school for a year to prove a point.

No one would need to keep their kids out of school for a new one to be built. Prospective entrepreneurs would look for neighborhoods where parental dissatisfaction is highest. Few folks keep their kids out of a bad school for a year now, there's no reason to expect it would be any different with school vouchers.

so let me put it to you this way: instead of trying to make everyone go to private school, why don't you focus on improving public education? why do you support the version of this policy that gives you a tax break instead of researching ways to make public education higher quality everywhere so that we don't need private schools at all?

First off, you don't know me. A voucher system would not confer any economic benefit on me whatsoever. Your implication that I am making an argument for my own benefit instead of on the grounds presented, makes me embarrassed for you.

I have no interest in eliminating a need for private schools. Why should I have an issue with the voluntary associations of others? If a group, any group, wishes to gather together and create a school for their community it is their own affair. There are numerous reasons why they might wish to do so: religious, political, ethnic. Existence of private schools is not a sign that something is wrong.

We are now decades into a trend of worsening public education. What evidence do we have that more government, more centralization, more money will help? A large bureaucracy is accompanied by vested interests in the status quo. These vested interests in combination with the near monopoly of government schools make for a system that has little incentive to be responsive to the feedback from its consumers. Given this, the most probable route for improvement is by making a systemic change, and I don't mean this in terms of curriculum or models of learning, but a change rather in whom the schools are accountable to. And that's what a voucher system would do. If I thought there was a better option, outside of taking one's child out of the school system, then that's what I would promote.
posted by BigSky at 1:40 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


First off, you don't know me. A voucher system would not confer any economic benefit on me whatsoever. Your implication that I am making an argument for my own benefit instead of on the grounds presented, makes me embarrassed for you.

you know what? I stopped being able to look at your arguments with any kind of objectivity a few comments ago. So I'm gonna step away, because I'm not approaching this with any kind of fairness to you. I'm not embarrassed for myself they way you're apparently embarrassed for me, but since I can't shake the feeling you're being dishonest here, I'm gonna back off because that's not my call to make. I stand by what I've said, but at the end of the day it's not enough to believe I'm right. This discussion should remain a matter of citations, studies and real-life consequences borne out by example, but I'm not sure I have the patience to continue doing that, and I'm positive I've lost the inclination. So before I make any further implications about you and what your schooling situation is like, I'm a get the fuck on out of here. Sorry for doing that, and take care.
posted by shmegegge at 1:57 PM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why should I have an issue with the voluntary associations of others? If a group, any group, wishes to gather together and create a school for their community it is their own affair.

Fine...until they start demanding taxpayer money to do it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:30 PM on February 3, 2010


And why should the taxpayers support this with their tax dollars when they absolutely do not with their private dollars?

I agree. As a guy I'm never going to have use for a speculum. Down with healthy vaginas!
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:30 PM on February 3, 2010


you seem to think any libertarian policy or privatization initiative is about saying "Fuck you" to the poor. It isn't. It's about creating avenues for feedback from consumers by giving them the power to choose.

The thing is, I don't want to be a "consumer". I want to be a "citizen", and a citizen of a society that recognizes that such a thing as the common good exists.

We are now decades into a trend of worsening public education. What evidence do we have that more government, more centralization, more money will help?

Seeing as I understand that lack of funding is a major issue in many American school districts, then, yes, money will help. Education is a justifiable public expense, and trying to do it on the cheap is shortsighted as best.
posted by jokeefe at 6:11 PM on February 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


Your implication that I am making an argument for my own benefit instead of on the grounds presented, makes me embarrassed for you.

"Your implication that I am arguing for the paramount importance of self-interest in all things out of my own self-interest makes me embarrassed for you."

I don't think you're arguing solely out of your own economic self-interest. You're advocating an ideologically correct solution to a political problem and you probably don't realize that your solution sounds awfully like "Come the revolution, comrade ... (entrepreneurs will breed ponies for us all!)" to most of us. You have some obviously good--if banal--ideas like "if you make opportunity available, people will take advantage of it," but you can't see that this observation is no more a solution to each economic problem than "all you need is love" is to every international one. You don't see that the political is not merely subsidiary or coincident to the economic. It's strange: one of the attractions of libertarianism lies in the way it promises to validate the individual and the particular, yet nearly every actually existing libertarian I've encountered could give a Trot a race for the ideologically pure award.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:38 AM on February 4, 2010


It's easy to state that classic "supply and demand" economics has been proven to be too simplistic to rely on, but do you have any support for that claim?

A for-profit educational company's mission is to enroll as many students as it can profitably educate. Given the expense of building extra classroom space and the need to maintain low teacher-student ratios, it would be miraculous if that number was exactly equal to the total number of kids who need to be educated.

McDonald's is not a failure if they don't sell a hamburger to every single person in the country, but private education would be a disaster if there were pockets of students that it simply wasn't profitable to educate.

Educating 100% of the students is not going to simply be 2% more expensive than educating 98%.
posted by straight at 7:25 AM on February 4, 2010


You don't see that the political is not merely subsidiary or coincident to the economic.

If you can show how I've ignored this distinction to the detriment of this or any other issue, I would be interested to read it. This isn't meant as a challenge; I'm really curious.

It's strange: one of the attractions of libertarianism lies in the way it promises to validate the individual and the particular, yet nearly every actually existing libertarian I've encountered could give a Trot a race for the ideologically pure award.

If someone is making an argument which allows for their easy identification as a Libertarian, then by definition, you're looking at the similarities. Seeing someone attack federal agencies that are almost universally reviled by Libertarians, e.g. DEA, ATF, IRS, Federal Reserve, etc., is how I most frequently recognize others. No outsider is going to be able to differentiate between them in that situation, all of their arguments will be similar. But you can rest assured that we have more than our share of monkey shit fights on various niche issues.

-----

A for-profit educational company's mission is to enroll as many students as it can profitably educate. Given the expense of building extra classroom space and the need to maintain low teacher-student ratios, it would be miraculous if that number was exactly equal to the total number of kids who need to be educated.

McDonald's is not a failure if they don't sell a hamburger to every single person in the country, but private education would be a disaster if there were pockets of students that it simply wasn't profitable to educate.

Educating 100% of the students is not going to simply be 2% more expensive than educating 98%.


"Pockets of students" is ambiguous. It can be interpreted in two ways, either as a geographic group that would go unserved, or a group of prospective students that have a greater than average cost of education in common. There's no reason to suspect that any region of the country would go unserved. Remember, these are vouchers that would allow privately owned schools to compete with the existing government schools. We're beginning with 100% coverage. Ensuring that special needs students and students consistently presenting disciplinary problems receive a quality education will require some attention. There will be an advantage for special needs students in new schools opening that have programs catering to them (e.g. McKay scholarships in Florida), but some families in rural areas will doubtless have to rely on the local government school, which is exactly the situation they are in now. Since special needs students consume more of a school's resources they would probably have to be granted a voucher larger than students in the mainstream. On the other hand, students expelled from a government school might quickly find themselves with few options. Some might call that a feature.
posted by BigSky at 9:51 AM on February 4, 2010


BigSky, what I mean is something like this:

Say a town has 2500 high school students in 2 public high schools, each with a 1000 students and one private high school with 500 students.

2010 - The town switches to a voucher-funded system.
2011 - Two new private high schools, each with a 500 student capacity, open. The public schools each lose half their students and half their funding. Can they even keep their doors open? If not, what happens to the remaining 1000 students in that community?

2012 - Two more private high schools open serve the students who last year had no school to attend, each with a 500 student capacity. But the town has grown, and now has 2600 high school students, so there are 100 students with no school slots available.

2013 - Is it profitable to open a 5th private school to serve just 100 students? Or to add a wing to one of the existing schools? Maybe. But for various reasons (construction delays, delays in raising capital) nobody actually swoops in on this market in 2013, so 100 students go a second year with no education.

2014 - Three of the schools add an extra wing to try to grab that extra market (and also because they're hoping to compete for each others's students). But because of the school shortages, people have left town, there's only 2400 high school students, 2 of the 3 private schools have a loss, one has to lay off a couple teachers (leading to a higher student/teacher ration and a downward slide for that school that may end in it closing). Investors become shy about school investments and the next time there's an uptick in the high-school age population, it is even more difficult to raise capital to try to chase that last tiny sliver of the market.

You can quibble with the details of my scenario, but I don't think you can deny that there are all kinds of plausible scenarios in which a private system would fail to provide education for all of the kids in a community, because it's simply not profitable to try to provide slots for 100% of the kids in a community.
posted by straight at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


straight,

I live in a largely rural state with numerous private schools, most of them religious. The total enrollment of some of them is quite small; a high school could easily have less than one hundred students. I work with a guy whose class size was around a dozen. That's class as in Class of 2010, not English class.
posted by BigSky at 12:30 PM on February 4, 2010


We are now decades into a trend of worsening public education

I'm just curious: is there any evidence for this at all? I have never seen any. It may well be true, but franklystatements like this always seems to be based on nothing more than hearsay and that rash of "principal vs. the bad students" movies in the '80s.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:45 PM on February 4, 2010


My burbclave is totally going to have streetlights.
posted by iamabot at 5:47 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Public education is best when it is diverse. Children from educated families raise the expecations and improve the educational experience of children from less educated families, without any harm to their own educational experience or acheivements. Children from different ethnic and/or religious backgrounds play together and learn tolerance and understanding of each others' cultural differences.

I dunno--can you support this? Seems like I've read a million articles over the years about pretty strict racial segregation in schools with diverse populations, and it seems to me from my own experience and from reading I've done that there's also a lot of educational segregation based on social class. I think it might have been in the book Literacy with An Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in their own Self-Interest that observers in classrooms were able to see teachers sorting kids by social class--without meaning to--as early as first grade, for instance sorting them into reading groups and treating each reading group significantly differently.

I've just never bought this "more fortunate kids make the educational environment better for less-fortunate kids." It seems true in an ideal way, but false to both my experience and my reading in reality.
posted by not that girl at 6:13 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Big Sky, are you claiming that the existence of smaller schools in some parts of the country guarantees that if we switched to all-private schools there would always be open slots for every child in every market in the country?

I currently live in a town of 80,000 people that has zero secular bookstores (the last one, a Waldenbooks in the mall that was actually owned by B&N closed this year). So even though I know there are people (me, for instance) who would shop at such a bookstore, there aren't enough of us to make it profitable.

It seems absurd to me to think that a private education system would not, for similar reasons, fail to offer education for sale in every market where it's needed.
posted by straight at 6:20 PM on February 4, 2010


I've just never bought this "more fortunate kids make the educational environment better for less-fortunate kids." It seems true in an ideal way, but false to both my experience and my reading in reality.

It's certainly been true in my experience.

There are some less-fortunate kids in my daughter's school who get to be in a reading group lead by a college English professor who has a specialization in children's literature. My daughters are routinely asked to help tutor some of the kids who are having difficulties, which is good for slower kids and good for my daughters (nothing helps you learn as well as explaining it to someone else).

Most of the parents who volunteer seem to be from the "more fortunate" half of the school, but the whole school benefits.

The same was true when I was a kid attending school on the other side of the country. It wasn't the poor kids' moms volunteering in the schools.
posted by straight at 6:32 PM on February 4, 2010


I'm just curious: is there any evidence for this at all? I have never seen any. It may well be true, but franklystatements like this always seems to be based on nothing more than hearsay and that rash of "principal vs. the bad students" movies in the '80s.

Check out the page I linked to here.

-----

Big Sky, are you claiming that the existence of smaller schools in some parts of the country guarantees that if we switched to all-private schools there would always be open slots for every child in every market in the country?

I've never run a school, I don't know what the costs are, and I certainly can't guarantee anything. What I am claiming is that numerous small private schools are in business right now. And so, it appears that the supply of classroom time can expand and contract fairly easily.

It needs repeating, we would not be switching to all-private schools. Government schools would stay open. The only difference is that they would be facing additional competition from private schools. And let's keep our expectations realistic about access in all markets. I attended junior high in northeastern Pennsylvania. A classmate of mine had a one way bus ride of over an hour. And for years in west Texas, students rode the bus for 179 miles.
posted by BigSky at 7:33 PM on February 4, 2010


At the very least, there need to be streetlights (and people) in the neighborhoods adjacent to the Anywhere station of the Midnight Train line (which I assume can be boarded either at the South Detroit station or the Small Town/Lonely World station).
posted by The World Famous at 8:08 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's strange: one of the attractions of libertarianism lies in the way it promises to validate the individual and the particular, yet nearly every actually existing libertarian I've encountered could give a Trot a race for the ideologically pure award.

That's because to self-identify with the Libertarian party is to admit to being completely politically disenfranchised. I'm sure there are a lot of people on the moderate end of the libertarian spectrum who self-identify as Democrat or Republican because they want their vote to count. Which leaves Libertarians in the position of having no moderate element in their party, and therefore looking like the extreme fringe of the far-left or far-right, with all the consequent fringe media / echo chamber effects. If there were a mature three (or four) party system, you'd see a lot more reasonable people in whatever party represented Libertarian interests who might propose a voucher system with an AGI based phaseout 'rich=no voucher', requirements that schools which accept vouchers conform to federal curriculum and admittance regulations, increased voucher values for special needs students, etc...
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:14 PM on February 4, 2010


FuManchu: Streetlights being shut off is saving maybe $25,000 total.

No, they're not shutting down the cities streetlights to make 25k. The number mentioned in the article is.. RTFA.

Your number is probably for some lights around specific buildings or portable work lights. (Note that some other departments are also paying "utilities street lights".) The actual streetlights as mentioned in the article come to... well, RTFA. The 25k you're talking about mostly comes from the Street Maintenance gig, where in 2007 & 2008 the expenditure was $0, then it shot up to 25k in 2009, and is now down to 3k. My wild-ass guess is that they won't be doing much night work this year.

Malor: If you look at the numbers that FuManchu posted (thanks, Fu, for being the only person so far to actually do some homework on this), they look to me to be bad-faith cuts. That is, they need to cut about 10% from overall expenditures. But almost everything is being loaded into parks and the bus system, instead of spreading the pain around somewhat equally.

Parks and buses can't be wasteful? How do you know these weren't actually pretty wasteful programs with easily made, large cuts?

Anyway, if you look at salaries and benefits in the general fund, you actually do see a lot of significant across the board cuts. Not so much for Fire and Police, but looking at their lines it doesn't look like it's easy to cut a big chunk out. How deep do you want to cut fire and police services to save these vital parks and public transit programs?

The fact is that it's a little hard for us to really know what these numbers mean, and it's easy to see whatever you want to see in them.
posted by fleacircus at 5:37 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out that there's a lesson right here on the education debacle in this country; these politicians were told to make cuts by the voters, so they cut everything that the voters wanted, but kept everything that they themselves wanted. Their lives are just as comfortable as ever, even in the face of a profound budget shortfall, while the people providing the budget are being screwed.

You see exactly the same thing in most bureaucracies, and the bigger it gets, the worse that effect becomes. Schools are among the largest organizations that most of us deal with on a routine basis, and they've gone almost completely dysfunctional in many areas. Further, we've seen on many occasions that the teachers will fight like crazy to stop reform, especially anything that has to do with measuring teacher performance in any way. The school system likes us throwing all the money we can at them, but despite persistent and massive increases in budget, actual teaching gets worse and worse. It's gotten so bad that many teachers are themselves the product of the bad schools, and are completely incompetent to do the job they're supposed to be doing.

It seems to me that the only way to really fix things is to break up the bureaucracy and get back to actual teaching. We need to start experimenting on a broad scale, to find out what actually works. And this is an area where markets show particular strength; good ideas are copied and spread quickly. In bureaucracies, it's much more difficult to make that happen.

When you break the problem down, it's not very useful to think of it as a coherent whole. The problem is really a million individual students getting educated (or failing to be educated), one at a time. And it strikes me that we need something really different than what we've been doing; the factory system of education simply is not working. So why not give individual people the resources they need to pay for an education, and let them sort out the best way to get it in their local area?

That doesn't mean you just close government schools; it means they have to actually compete for resources, and they close only if they can't attract enough revenue from the community they serve. There will be X number of dollars available per student; in areas where only public schools are available, students will continue to use them. In areas where private schools are available, parents will choose based on where they think their kid will do the best. That will allow for schools that focus on the bright kids, and schools that focus on the mainstream, and schools that focus on special needs. Instead of our present factory system, one-size-fits-none, we can allow education to specialize.

And it's not like we can't regulate; as BrotherCaine says, any school that accepts vouchers can be held to certain minimum standards. And we can offer larger vouchers for those with handicaps or disabilities.

What we should be focusing on is educating kids. Focusing on preserving "The System" is completely stupid. What we get is endless repetition of Colorado Springs, where the administrators keep themselves comfortable at the expense of actual education. "The System" is a stupid thing to fight for. Actual educated kids is what matters, and who the fuck cares how we get there, as long as it works?
posted by Malor at 5:49 AM on February 5, 2010


We need "education" tag. And, "bullshit".
posted by fleacircus at 6:08 AM on February 5, 2010


A good starting place for determining "worth it" and "not worth it" is here. SAT scores certainly have their limitations, but his productivity ratio is worth looking at.

I don't think it is worth looking that. The dude has this alarmist graph with a dip on it that makes it look like education is in dire dire peril. But, SAT scores have remained pretty constant over that time, so all his graph really shows is spending per student. I think going back to 1960 is dumb... Frankly, I expect schools to have to buy things like copy machines, computers, etc. which do things like increase administrative efficiency or help kids in ways that don't show up on an SAT. Maybe it would be good to discuss that but this "productivity ratio" is a lame place to start.

So no, I don't think that guy's page is worth looking at. Don't believe the geocities-lookin' hype, man.
posted by fleacircus at 8:02 AM on February 5, 2010


"It is a little daunting for this driver to drive at the posted speed of 45 on unfamiliar roads that bend and twist with only blackness ahead"

You don't have to drive 45. You know that's the maximum speed under ideal conditions, right?

You're not in SoCa anymore, no one needs to get anywhere fast in North Carolina. (joking!)
posted by HopperFan at 9:58 AM on February 5, 2010


"It is a little daunting for this driver to drive at the posted speed of 45 on unfamiliar roads that bend and twist with only blackness ahead"

Reflective paint stripes and some reflectors would take care of that. No streetlights necessary.
posted by The World Famous at 10:40 AM on February 5, 2010


Further, we've seen on many occasions that the teachers will fight like crazy to stop reform, especially anything that has to do with measuring teacher performance in any way. The school system likes us throwing all the money we can at them, but despite persistent and massive increases in budget, actual teaching gets worse and worse. It's gotten so bad that many teachers are themselves the product of the bad schools, and are completely incompetent to do the job they're supposed to be doing.

Most of the teachers I know resist 'reform' because they've seen it come down the pike every 8-10 years. Usually involving more money going to testing companies and textbook companies for the new thing that is supposed to make education better, but just results in having to draw up new lesson plans. Alternatively, you can have an 'every child left behind' type system come in that is a not so covert way to take federal money away from the population that needs the most assistance, and give it to the population that needs the most.

Our system of education needs some improvement, sure. Teachers probably need more training in handling disruptive classes and children before being thrown in the deep end. But a huge chunk of education's problems with educating every child adequately are unsolvable. Children who's parents don't value education will most likely not get quality education no matter how great the schools or teachers. Children who's parents value education, but have little resources and live in impoverished areas might benefit from a voucher system. But there have been a lot of successes in education too. Special ed has taken a population that would have been effectively abandoned years ago and vastly improved their level of education.

The thing is, at least in my state, teaching is a profession. Yet the people who's voices are most heard in education reform are often the administrators and the parents. You want better education, maybe it's time to listen to people who've been teaching for 30 years.

I think the goal of getting everyone to take the same test at the same level (and better every year!) is a ludicrous one. We aren't cranking out widgets here, and these exams are set to a minimum standard. Schools that manage to encourage kids to excel to genius levels in specific areas but fail to fully correct their deficits would be effectively penalized versus schools that narrowly focus on everyone meeting the same minimum standards. Are we going to create a system that discourages the kind of person who can solve Fermat's last theorem because he's a year behind in verbal skills? Once we create a system that focuses on weakness and ignores strengths, maybe we've set ourselves up for failure.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:30 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Edit last sentence 1st para: and give it to the population that needs the *least*
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2010


three blind mice: "When people have a choice, they prefer Wal-Mart's low prices to Union-Marts comprehensive benefits. Sad, but true. Why has it been increasing in government? And why should the taxpayers support this with their tax dollars when they absolutely do not with their private dollars?"

Taxpayers support Walmart with their tax dollars. They paid to build and continue to pay to maintain the vast road and freeway network that funnels consumers into specific high-density locations where Walmart can establish its stores. They paid in the past and continue to pay for the transport of water and other basic services into often inhospitable and arid regions otherwise incapable of sustaining the highe, dense populations thst Walmart requires for its business model. They often pay in terms of direct subsidies and tax breaks to entice Walmart to build stores in specific locations. They paid for much of the R&D that Walmart uses to organise and operate its logistics/data collection operation. And perhaps most crucially, they pay vast amounts of tax that is trnsferred to Walmart employees in terms of direct payments, low-income tax credits, and low-income health services that enable Walmart to externalise its costs and to profitably employ its vast army of workers, many of them temporary or earning at or below any reasonable standard for "poverty".
posted by meehawl at 12:00 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think it is worth looking that. The dude has this alarmist graph with a dip on it that makes it look like education is in dire dire peril. But, SAT scores have remained pretty constant over that time, so all his graph really shows is spending per student. I think going back to 1960 is dumb... Frankly, I expect schools to have to buy things like copy machines, computers, etc. which do things like increase administrative efficiency or help kids in ways that don't show up on an SAT. Maybe it would be good to discuss that but this "productivity ratio" is a lame place to start.

So no, I don't think that guy's page is worth looking at. Don't believe the geocities-lookin' hype, man.


In inflation adjusted dollars, we have had a 250% increase in per student spending since 1960.

Copy machines.

Is this a serious reply? The discussion on education started off with talking about receiving value in our social programs. Yes the SAT scores have remained constant, that's the point. Unless all of the additional spending was for playground equipment we have not received much in return. I admit that the SAT is a poor proxy for academic achievement. But where does this "hidden" help for kids show itself? Is it in education? or "social justice"?

Are you really arguing against a downward trend in the quality of education received by the government schools' graduates? Perhaps on the basis of the SAT scores remaining constant? There has been a steady growth in test prep courses over the last twenty five years. And let's set the SAT scores to the side, look at some of the other material:

CUNY freshman have serious difficulty with basic math. A simple algebra problem is beyond the reach of 90%, however a full third could convert a fraction to a decimal. Somehow they all managed to graduate from high school.

And since you didn't like the "Geocities look" (what a smooth dismissal), here's a nice pdf concluding "that educational productivity is falling at 3.5 percent per year relative to low productivity sectors of the economy."

I think I'm starting to see why some liberals are so resistant to the obvious importance of evaluating the returns of our spending.
posted by BigSky at 1:20 PM on February 5, 2010


It needs repeating, we would not be switching to all-private schools.

That doesn't make sense. I thought the whole point of voucher systems what to take the current pool of educational tax revenue and give it to families in the form of vouchers? That either makes all schools private schools or all schools public schools.

(Or more realistically, the schools that charge more tuition than the voucher pays for would be "private" schools and the ones that any student could afford to attend with her voucher would be the "public" ones.)

So the formerly public schools would be under the exact same pressure as the formerly private ones to only accept as many students as they could afford to teach and still stay in the black.

And for years in west Texas, students rode the bus for 179 miles.

And under your the private system, who would pay for that? Wouldn't students who can't afford a 180-mile daily bus ticket simply be unable to attend school?
posted by straight at 1:54 PM on February 5, 2010


Australia has a solution.
posted by electroboy at 2:36 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a reason SAT scores are steady, only students who intend to go to college take the SAT. For a real measure of productivity, you'd look at what percentage of students are taking the SAT.

It's interesting the CUNY has so many innumerate freshmen. Our system is the same, but somehow it's always assumed that it's a local phenomenon....even though our local math scores are a bit above the national average.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:17 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


God damn, I didn't want to wade into the education thing, but it already took over the thread. To those supporting the status quo: You do realize that much of Europe essentially has the voucher system that has been propsed? Both the Netherlands and Sweden have almost exactly what has been proposed by voucher advocates, and have much better testing scores. The 3-year DC voucher experiment showed [PDF link] an increase in reading scores, no decrease in math scores, and much higher satisfaction levels, at a lower cost.
posted by FuManchu at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


fleacircus, you're right they said a much larger number, but I couldn't find where $1.2m could be for streetlights in the Detailed Expenditures, could you point it out to me? Nothing in Streets or Transit could cover that much. The only multi-million operating expense was the $5m "Transit Service Contract" which I assumed was the bus coverage.
posted by FuManchu at 3:38 PM on February 5, 2010


Both the Netherlands and Sweden have almost exactly what has been proposed by voucher advocates, and have much better testing scores.

Would you be willing to accept vouchers if you also had to accept Sweden's laws on salary distribution? Because, frankly, I think that has a lot more to do with Sweden's success (as it did the United States back in the day) than the nuts and bolts of how they fund education.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:23 AM on February 6, 2010


FuManchu - look at the General Costs. Streetlights seem to be one of the "general expenses of City government which are common to multiple programs or cannot be identified with a specific program." - so I guess it's split between a number of the detailed expenditure line items. I'm guessing Utilities Electric, but maybe not. The total budget (before reductions) appears to be $4.8m.
posted by Dojie at 9:07 AM on February 6, 2010


CUNY freshman have serious difficulty with basic math. A simple algebra problem is beyond the reach of 90%, however a full third could convert a fraction to a decimal. Somehow they all managed to graduate from high school.


It's not a given that they all managed to graduate HS, or even passed the GED exam. Of the 20 or so colleges that make up the CUNY system, six of them are two-year community colleges. Those schools do not require either a HS Diploma or a GED as a requirement for entry. In fact, NY State law allows that successful completion of the first year (I think it's 21 semester credits) of a two year community college program automatically confers a GED on a student who does not have one already.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:14 PM on February 6, 2010


Dojie, you're right. Thanks for finding that sheet, I completely missed it.

Man I hate these budget details -- none of the cuts are made clear. The Utilities items (including Electric and Streelight) in the related categories are only worth about $100k total. To make up $4m most of the charges have to come from the Transit Service Contract, since that's the only place where it makes sense, where it's large enough, and is in a category that has large cuts planned. I was wrong about the superficiality of the streetlight cut.
posted by FuManchu at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2010


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