Budget cuts, and why no one seems concerned

The one thing I can’t figure out about the budget fiasco at City Hall is is why there hasn’t been any political fallout. If this was happening in almost any other city in the country, heads would roll. (And they are – ask New York Gov. David Paterson or Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who probably wishes he had had never heard of the NBA.)

Because it is a fiasco. Sales tax collections by state are down an average 3.2 percent for this budget year; our sales tax collections are down 9.0 percent from the previous fiscal year (our sales tax chart is here). Yet everyone downtown insists we’re better off than the rest of the country.

After the jump, why no one seems especially bothered — and who will suffer the most from the forthcoming budget’s draconian cuts:

There are two reasons why the council and city manager are getting a free ride from the taxpayers on this:

First, not many people care much about city government in Dallas. Want proof? Look at how few of us vote. Turnout, even in good years, rarely exceeds 20 percent. Some 1,900 people voted in this month’s District 7 council runoff – a 5.8 percent turnout.

Second, the council, and especially Mayor Park Cities and the city manager, has done an excellent job of convincing the voters who do pay attention that the recession that caused this could not possibly have been foreseen. This is at best wishful thinking, given that the economy had already started its freefall during last year’s budget debate.

The irony in all this is that the budget cuts will most affect those neighborhoods that are the council’s showpieces – those of us who are part of what the planners and experts call the New Urbanism. Sadly, south and west Dallas, which have traditionally been underserved, probably won’t notice the cuts as much. And Far North Dallas, where the infrastructure isn’t as worn out, doesn’t need as much.

But here – and by here, I mean pretty much everyone who lives between Oak Cliff and LBJ and White Rock Lake and the tollway – we’ll notice. That’s because we’re the residents who have forsaken the suburbs to live in the city because it’s close in and hip and happening and full of amenities. We’re why the city rewrote the zoning laws to encourage density. We’re the ones that developers are salivating over. We’re the reason that West Village and Mockingbird Station got built, and that there are plans to add similar developments in Oak Cliff, Preston Hollow and Lake Highlands when the economy picks up.

So what has the city done? Slashed the funding that provides the services that makes these areas more livable. Want to play a pickup game at the rec center? Tough — the rec center is closed. Want to send your kid to story time at the library? Can’t – the library is closed. Want to call 311 about a pot hole? Good luck – if you can get through to 311, there isn’t any money to fix pot holes. And that doesn’t even include cuts to more vital services like police and fire. That is not a formula for keeping people who can just as easily live in Frisco or Southlake.

A commenter to a previous post asked me why I dwell on this. No one, the person wrote, wants to hear this. Maybe the commenter is right. Maybe no one wants to hear it. But we need to hear it. We need to hold our elected officials accountable. Otherwise, they’ll keep making the same mistakes, and we’ll never get the libraries and rec centers re-opened. And that will be our fault.


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