Montgomery: "A Tale of Two Cities"
The month of October brings cooler temperatures and a multitude of activities to our already busy personal lives: football games, fall festivals, upcoming holiday plans, and the flurry of related shopping and spending.
It also heralds the beginning of new fiscal budget spending at the federal, state, and local levels.
Last month, I shared that policy will impact your life whether you love or hate politics, Fiscal policy at all levels of government plays the largest role in determining your own household budget.
The federal budget and spending has reached a level that frankly surpasses comprehension, and our eyes glaze over in reading the numbers. Closer to home, the numbers in our city budget are a bit easier to grasp, but are still extremely concerning when considering the long-term consequences of debt service.
For several years, the focus of Montgomery mayors and the members of the city council has been on the economic development of the downtown Montgomery area. While a thriving downtown area is favorable to business recruitment and our tourism industry, many citizens with serious concerns about the level of rising debt at our local level are also wondering if spending is being prioritized in a manner that benefits all of Montgomery, not just the segment included in the entertainment district. As noted a few days ago by a friend, empty storefronts in recently thriving areas of Montgomery lead one to think we are in the midst of a full-blown depression in certain parts of the city seemingly ignored, while the emphasis is placed on the value of downtown development.
As similarly required in planning our personal budgets, those elected to manage city governments must prioritize spending - identifying “wants versus needs” - and many times have to make extremely difficult decisions for the future viability of our city. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that spending on our “wants” has taken precedence over the “needs” and our city is financially in a far worse position than our elected officials want us to believe.
For those of us who subscribe to a more limited role of government, there is a difference between fostering an environment conducive to the growth of business and city government heavily funding economic development activity at the expense of essential government services such as police, fire, and emergency responders. I also have to wonder just how much unnecessary spending is categorized under the guise of “economic development” as that term is so easily sold as “job creation.”
If you’re a taxpayer and a voter in Montgomery County, you simply must pay attention to the economic policy decisions at our local level because future decisions regarding Montgomery’s debt will impact your family whether or not you live within the city limits.
Why? Primarily because the idea of an “occupational tax” as a solution never seems very far off the table and remains a crucial issue for voters. There’s simply something wrong in a so-called free society when elected officials think collecting a tax for having an occupation is a positive idea, and to paraphrase State Senator Dick Brewbaker, an occupational tax is the sign of a struggling and perhaps even dying city. But unless voters educate themselves prior to next year’s city elections, we may well face that tax as the current mayor is absolutely in favor of it and current city council members tend to waffle regarding their support or opposition. Haven’t enough residents already left our city and county for other areas because of problems with our public school system or crime? Are we willing to allow yet another tax add to the exodus from our county?
Montgomery is a city rich in history and I encourage and applaud those who invest in our Capital City. But when one geographical area becomes the spending priority of our city leaders over other vital parts of the city, we run a serious risk of further eroding our tax base as businesses and residents simply leave.
I can’t help but make the comparison between Montgomery and Mobile, another large city in our state dealing with its own financial struggles - perhaps it’s the Alabama version of “A Tale of Two Cities.” But the difference in leadership is glaring – one recognizes the critical financial state of affairs and is proactively addressing them; the other one keeps telling us that all’s well.
Marcia Chambliss is the Alabama State Coordinator of Smart Girl Politics, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to the education and training of activists and candidates, and Smart Girl Politics Action, http://sgpaction.com/, a 501(c) (4) which focuses on conservative issues. She can be reached at: Marcia@sgpaction.com. Her views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart Girl Politics Action.