Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Business of Government - An Editorial

An editorial entitled "The Business of Government" by Louis William Rose appeared in The Jacksonville Observer on June 22, 2009:
Recently Mayor Peyton sent everyone an e-mail in which he said that it was his intention to run the City of Jacksonville like a business. The problem is that the City of Jacksonville should not be run like a business at all.

His Honor does not own the City of Jacksonville . The individual citizens who own businesses and residential property own it. Our needs and wants are few, amounting to no more than to be able to live in a safe and clean city, and to be supplied with water, power and other basic utilities. That’s it. The Mayor is not the boss and the city workers are not his employees; they are all of them official custodians of the public trust, from the Mayor right on down to the fellow that cleans the restrooms, and surely the people of Jacksonville are not stockholders who expect to receive a profit. We are citizens who expect our rights to be upheld, our taxes kept down and our elected officials to be humble and honest.

The Mayor and the City Council are not entrepreneurial tycoons who should expect to get rich, they are servants of the people, and should expect to lose money and opportunity as the cost of their public service. Yet there is at least the appearance that quid pro quo from city contracts paid for by the taxpayers, result in large contributions and personal advancement for elected officials. They accomplish this by creating gigantic capital improvement plans, not to provide jobs for the common man, but to provide large profits for their friends. They implement countless social programs that are not in universal demand, in order to buy the votes of the economically and educationally disadvantaged. We agree that it is a good thing for the children of Jacksonville to get an education. This is why we elect a school board to make provision for it. We are quick to endorse the idea of a public library system, and are willing to pay for it. However, programs that lack an overwhelming mandate should be done away with.

The purpose of a business is to make a profit and to grow. On the contrary, the purpose of city government is to provide service at the lowest cost. My fellow citizens do not want Jacksonville to become like New York City . They do not want it to become like Atlanta , either. I believe they want Jacksonville to remain the “biggest small town in America ”, a smaller, quieter Jacksonville than the one that we have now. If growth is inevitable, it should be deterred instead of hastened, and financed by entrepreneurs, not the taxpayers. The mission of city planners is not to callously wield eminent domain like a club, as was attempted in Mayport Village , but to preserve the regional culture, deter urban sprawl, and make provision for the necessities, such as farmland to feed the masses that already live here, and water for them to drink.

In 2008, the people of Florida voted in overwhelming numbers to save nearly $10 billion in property taxes with the approval of Amendment 1. This tax relief was in addition to the $15 billion tax cut passed by the Florida Legislature in 2007. Together, they added up to almost $25 billion in property-tax cuts over five years for Florida homeowners and businesses. By this action, the people of Florida , including the citizens of Jacksonville , demanded that their city governments reduce their budgets, not pass additional taxes. It is ridiculous for them to ignore the present reality. City government must shrink, not grow.

As public servants, our city council is expected to obey the will of the people. When elected officials attempt to circumvent the will of the people they cease to be public servants and become public enemies. Accordingly the Jacksonville City Council should take immediate action to repeal Solid Waste Fee ordinance (2007-837), Stormwater Authorization Ordinance (2007-836-E), Fee Ordinance (2008-129-E), and JEA Franchise Fee Authorization (2007-838). If the city council finds itself unable to do so, candidates will be found who will run on the promise to repeal these fees, and refund the money to the citizens from whom it has been unjustly taken. It should, I think, be enormously popular with the voters.

(Louis William Rose is a political philosopher and the parliamentarian of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Northeast Florida.)

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