Building a Better Local Government by Matthew Falconer
Matt Falconer is a local developer in Orlando, Florida and the surrounding areas. In the not so distant past Florida had a fantastic business climate. We have year around good weather on a sand bar that was fantastic to build on and a fresh underground water (Avon Park and Osceola ) supply. We enjoyed low taxes and had the “mail box” economy where retirees with social security and retirement checks to spend littered the landscape. There was enough tourism to drive the locals crazy from the traffic congestion and we good people running the local governments. And then the craziness set in.
Bush was elected; 9-11 happened, the housing bubble came and burst. Ten years later we suddenly wake up to see our local government went nuts in the sea of tax revenues. In a nutshell local government has increased 100% to 300% depending on the government program and municipality. A complete orgy of wasteful spending and consumption.
All the cool kids in high school without the drive, ambition or brains to go to college have flocked to the high paying government jobs and joined the union. We all know the politically correct cool kids. The Ken and Barbie’s of yesteryear, so sweet, cute and so contemptuous of all us everyday people who work for a living. Ken is now working 58 days a year in the Orlando Fire Department making $90,000 a year and Barbie is the Mayor’s assistant making $117,000 a year with some bogus four year degree about political science or some such nonsense anyone with an IQ over 90 could achieve. Now the “in” crowd has migrated into government and they are using the police power of the state to extort monopoly profits from the working class slugs that would make mobster Tony Soprano blush with envy.
In the past a government worker might get $25,000 a year and a good vacation plan. Maybe $35,000 or at the most $50,000 for the super duper ones. Now that is all chump change to the cool people. These overpaid under worked too lazy to get a real college degree in a subject like engineering or economics are regularly pulling down $70,000 with benefits while the average taxpayer makes $38,000. Ken and Barbie found the easy way to live the high life and make the un cool kids their servants working the boring everyday jobs and taking their money using the power of government to steal for them. Good work if you can get it. It must be nice to be making $70,000 with 30 days vacation, the best medical and dental benefits with job security while the peasants suffer 12% official unemployment and unofficially 20% if you include all those illegal’s who up and left and the discouraged private sector productive workers.
Mr. Falconer has seen this disdain and arrogance from the other side as a person treated like a peasant by government. Government just getting bigger and more ridiculous by the day until he finally got fed up and did something about it. Instead of picking up the pitch fork and invading city hall which has always been the peasants’ recourse in the past against dysfunctional government he decided to use his wits. He formed a 30 member commission to look into the waste and abuse of our local government. Citizens who would donate their time and effort for the propose of building a better local government to protect and serve the people. The Taxpayer Budget Review Boards of Florida was formed in 2008 with the goal of improving local government and not overthrowing it.
Basically the committee looked at Orange County and the cities contained within. All together there are 14 governments with zigzagging jurisdictions inside Orange County. Orlando, Ocoee, Apopka, Oakland and so forth. All these local governments with their own police, fire, code enforcement, zoning and bureaucracies. All run to control the people and using the police powers of the state to extort the maximum revenue from the working stiffs trying to feed their families. The Ken and Barbie’s of the world along with the affirmative action and union crowds have transformed our local governments into mobster thugs looking to make a buck. Matt and his commission spent the better part of a year extracting financial information from these municipalities and developing strategies to reduce expenses. Here are his basic themes.
The first theme that occurs throughout the book over and over again is the waste in duplication of services. This means if city A is next to city B why not share resources? The equipment, manpower, facilities can be reduced and economies of scale can be achieved UP TO A POINT. There is no set point like the Laffer Curve has for excessive tax rates but the commission divided up Orange County into four service areas. Orange County has a population of a little over a million so setting up service zones around 250,000 seems reasonable. Of course local citizens will have to decide the size that best serves them. The point is that there are diminishing returns in government by getting too big. There is a loss of contact with the people and the services unresponsive to the needs of the public. Getting the perfect size and forming regional zones will be more of a art than science but the benefits is greater utilization of manpower, equipment and facilities saving the public a estimated 10% to 20% according to Mr. Falconer. This seems conservative to me. I suspect there are more savings especially in areas like fire protection, code enforcement and administrative staffing.
The second theme that runs throughout the book is technology, technology and technology. Basically placing as many function on the web as possible. Plans inspection and review, traffic tickets, code enforcement beefs, education on line to be accessed by the public. Basically putting as much as is possible on line for the average citizen to be able to access government services from the comfort of their home or business. One of the many examples is getting a permit for a billboard. Why do citizens have to fill out the paperwork and make a trip to the courthouse? Why not do it on line? The process would involve the normal information gathering as well as a question and answer session that the public may need to make sure the billboard is in compliance with construction codes. The same would apply to builders who submit plans on a regular basis. Why not have accounts where all updates and submittals can be handled on line instead of the regular trips to city hall? Creating a 21st century city hall will save both the public and local government valuable resources estimated again at a conservative 10% to 20%.
The third theme of the book is failure to utilize private services. The classic example is garbage pick up where the city service cost 40% more than the private service and occurs less frequently. There are other services that should be considered on a case by case basis. Building inspection, engineering, prisons, information technology, administration and many other aspects of government. The idea is to eliminate the functions outside the core functions of safety, justice, safety net, education and maintaining respect for the public and public property. Do we need public golf courses? The proposition is to eliminate all government functions outside the core functions and concentrate on delivering those services in an economical and responsive manner.
Education reform recommendations include Cyber Schools, Virtual Schools; Charter Schools, Smaller Schools of 50 to 100 students and Vouchers. A massive decentralization of the schools for the benefit of the public. There is nothing sadder and no sin greater than having our young loved ones sent to these huge government monopoly indoctrination centers of 3,000 to 6,000 students. Huge bastions of unionized teachers preaching progressive lockstep thinking to the poor peasant children that cannot escape to private schools. One recommendation that I would give would be to assign the money including transportation cost to the student and give the money to the principal to spend as he or she pleases. Let the principal budget for transportation, salaries, maintenance, administration, and overhead to Orange County at 445 West Amelia Street. Currently Orange County spends about $13,500 per student including capital projects and not including transportation cost. Put a voucher on each kid of say $8,000 + transportation cost and let the schools fight over the kids. We will see how eager the principals are to give any of that $8,000+ to 445 West Amelia Street and the bureaucracy. Education needs to be centered on the STUDENTS! If we give the power of the purse to the principals we will get more bang for the buck. Guaranteed.
It makes people feel good if they are spending on children and their education to go to first rate schools. It makes me feel horrible that all this money is being wasted on unions and bureaucracy that is designed more for indoctrination than education. I am saddened that my children and other children suffer this abuse from the government at such a young age.
There are more figures and recommendations and I would urge every local politician to read the book. It is amazing that Mr. Falconer and his volunteers have put together real numbers at the local level. It took the amazing 30 a lot of e-mails and conversations to get an overall view and idea of the waste in Orange County. When you’re taking about a few billion saving 20% is nothing to be taken lightly. Thank you Matt and the amazing 30 who put this book together.
Matt Falconer is a guy who did something constructive about the problem of fiscally insane government. He has identified problems and proposed concrete solutions to those problems. Mr. Falconer proposes an amendment to the Orange County charter. It contains language to eliminate duplicate services in nearby municipalities and other reorganization goals and realignments. Mr. Falconer is currently running for Orange County Mayor and has one of the most organized volunteer forces currently going from door to door spreading the government reform movement message. In local straw pools he finishes first by wide margins. I wish him the best and would vote for him if I could but currently reside in neighboring Seminole County.
A few amendments I would like to see to eliminate the gravy train for Ken and Barbie aka local government.
Amendment I. This would have to be statewide since implementation of it on a county level would give some merchants an unfair advantage for retail customers. The amendment would force all local taxes into three areas. The millage rate would be set at 1.65 or 2.00 or something agreed upon for residential and commercial real estate. No more two tier system of a fixed rate for the homeowner and a different rate for commercial and secondary homeowners. All other revenue collected must come from gas or sales tax so the public can see the true cost of local government every time they fill up or go to the store. No more hiding behind 100 fees for 100 different clients. This amendment would make all those thuggish behaviors of the union bureaucrats sniffing out more revenue disappear. Real simple like “All property tax rates shall be 1.65% and all remaining city and county revenues shall come from retail sales tax and or gasoline taxes.” Done. No need to be fancy or complex. I guarantee you the day this went into affect everyone would be REALLY interested in their local government and waste.
Amendment II. “No local worker can serve a city, county or state government agency longer than 12 years.” Real simple and it gets Ken and Barbie out of the government gravy train and into the private sector with all the other unwashed peasants looking to feed their families. The pension nightmare is ended. Lifelong government slugs are forced to get a real job. An elite class of union parasites are shown the door.
Just those two reforms would turn local governments upside down. Isaac Newton said “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Well it’s time for the reaction to the insanity of our local governments.
I will help Matt Falconer, Todd Long, Franklin Perez, Karen Diebel and anyone else who exhibits a basic understanding of Austrian school economics and just plain respect for their fellow human beings. We have become a nation of governments plundering the populations they are reported to be serving. It happens at the top and has infected even the lowers levels of government. This is not a Democrat or Republican problem. I could not tell you Mr. Falconer’s party affiliation before he declared his candidacy and I could care less. The man understands government is a dead weight on society that is dragging down our living standards. And let me be even more frank. When the government starts causing me to be unable to feed and protect my family I WILL grab that pitchfork and get some payback.
On another level this is so unfair for one class of privileged Barbie’s and Kens to be taking money from another class of people who are productive members of society. Government needs to remember they produce NOTHING! Why on earth should government workers be paid more than productive members of society? Most of them are nice good looking people that can sit around five days a week looking busy and pretty. Handsome firefighters and policemen who work 58 days a year with lots of time to work out and be buff for the wives. So far removed from the rest of society working at Home Depot or on a construction site producing goods and services that benefit the people.
It reminds me of high school and the reunion 30 years later. The dumb guys who were in the “good” crowd all went into the government or union jobs. Very few of them had college degrees but they all had nice wives and nice pensions. The smart ones who went to college became chemist, doctors and contractors. And then there were the same poor saps that mostly didn’t go to college but were not cool enough to get that government job. Struggling to get by. It was like nothing had changed in 30 years. The “in” crowd was hogging all the money and fun plundering and pillaging the working class crowd only instead of using social circles and school functions they used the police power of the state to set up tax breaks for their industries and generate monopoly revenues for the unionized workers.
Most of the people like me who see the coming financial collapse and most likely break up of the United States are going to give the elections of 2010 and 2012 a chance. We owe it to the good decent people like Matt Falconer who played by the rules all his life and wants to fight government with peaceful legal means. Make no mistake there is a smoldering undercurrent to America just like it was 1858. The sides are lined up. Progressive verses conservative. There is very little middle ground. It will not take much to light that flame and when it is lit there is a huge amount of fuel just waiting to burn. Give it your best shot Matt. I and others with the education and military background will be waiting in the wings. Simper fi or was that Go Blue!