Fenger Pointing

Becky Fenger | July 2, 2008 Becky Fenger

Fiscal ship of fools

The 2008 Arizona legislative session has ground to a halt, and there is pitifully little for fiscal conservatives to like. And lots to cause one to worry. As Tom Jenney, Arizona Director for Americans for Prosperity, points out: “The Legislature in January 2009 will find itself looking at an unconstitutional cash deficit carry-forward of over $1 billion.” Yet Gov. Napolitano and the Democrats (with the help of renegade Republicans) refused to bite the bullet and make the necessary spending cuts, preferring gimmickry and borrowing against the future.

Spending money one doesn’t have is becoming the American way. Look what happened to Vallejo, Calif., a city of 120,000. Pricey salaries and benefits packages for their city workers have led them to file for bankruptcy in federal court. Alexis Simendinger of the National Journal reports that last year 292 out of 411 Vallejo employees were paid more than $100,000, and their city manager earned nearly $317,000. He marvels that a police captain earns $306,000 a year in pay and benefits, six times what the average Vallejo schoolteachers earns. More importantly, when public safety workers retire after age 50, they receive 90 percent of their top salary. Consider: Wages and benefits swallowed more than 75 percent of what was available in the city’s general fund in 2007.

Other local and state governments may be facing the same predicament, experts warn. Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, Jim Weiers, who was devastated over this year’s budget and the inability of lawmakers to make the tough cuts, states, “It puts us in the position that the state is now on the brink of bankruptcy.” He’s not joking.

Yet the politicians boogey on. Sports stadiums are a prime example of the lackadaisical manner in which money is thrown around on treats instead of meat-and-potatoes budget items. Witness the arrogance in Miami where Miami-Dade intends to spend over $347 million of taxpayer money, with a $35 million loan thrown in for good measure, on a baseball stadium. This decision was made absent public hearings, open discussion or any public vote.

Determined to fight the fast-tracked stadium, local auto dealer Norman Braman is suing to bring to the light of the Florida sun the tawdry political maneuvering involved. Amazingly, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez admitted that he had never even set eyes of a financial statement of the Florida Marlins. Go, Norman, go! But I wouldn’t count on his home run.

Joseph Bast, president of the non-profit Heartland Institute in Chicago, used to cross the country in an attempt to point out the folly of any government entity spending taxpayer money on stadiums when sports franchises are so wealthy in and of themselves. But, no more. Bast determined that his time and energy could be used to better effect on other pursuits, since it was a losing proposition. No matter what the monetary health of a community, there were always pooh bahs and their minions to see that stadiums would get rammed through – damn the costs. And ever newer and bigger stadiums would be demanded by professional teams with the threat of moving on to the next city that would hand them a gilded playpen for a moment in the national spotlight.

Sports playpens aren’t only for the pros. The Tesseract School will open its Upper School at 40th Street and Shea Boulevard this fall. The facility is 22,000 square feet, with an 11,000 square foot sports pavilion. With 135 students enrolled, they can be assured of their own personal open space. And, from the sounds of the curriculum, students can look forward to plenty of foreign travel, as well. The junior globe trotters will be going to China, South America, Rome and Athens in addition to already going to Costa Rica. The head of the school, Nigel Taplin, wants his charges to have a global perspective. And he will instill in them an understanding of global warming. My word, when will the little darlings ever learn to read and write? Or learn that the planet is more likely to experience another ice age than any global warming? Not in this school, I’ll bet.

owl perch

Mystery Photo: Can anyone tell me how this man landed on the owl perch erected on property in Carefree?