Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Mortgaging a Community's Future With Budget Chicanery

For all of the uproar about federal budget deficits, we hear far too little about the games states play to feign "balancing" their budgets. Common approaches are to sell off decades of future revenues (e.g., parking meter revenues) for a one-time cash payment, or to contract for services with payment to occur out of future budgets.

How will future sessions of government balance the budget with those pre-existing commitments and reduced revenues? Who cares, right? It's all about "right now", and with term limits the legislators who mortgaged the future probably won't be around when it's time to pay the bills.

I don't recall the source, but I was recently directed to a particularly egregious example of a local government selling out the community:
The bottom line: For borrowing $105 million in 2011, taxpayers will end up paying investors more than $981 million by 2051, or almost 10 times what the district borrowed. That’s wildly more expensive than a typical school bond, in which a district pays back two or maybe three times what it borrowed.
Forty years of crippling debt in exchange for an easy way out for the school district. This, because it's too politically difficult to raise taxes even in the modest amount necessary to support a fiscally responsible bond issue? The right wing fantasy once again crashes into reality. The "beast" isn't starving, and the money to pay off that $billion debt will come out of taxpayers' pockets.

Really, while granting that state governments are at least as guilty as local governments when it comes to this type of game, it's time for states to impose some limits.

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