With Tucson's local tax and fee revenues plummeting, it's the right time to focus local government spending on the essentials. So, Proposition 200 may seem like a great idea.
Prop. 200 is marketed as an effort to focus Tucson on giving priority funding to core local government services — law enforcement, emergency medical services and fire protection — in order to generate better response times. But the truth is it would just mandate more government spending with no strings attached.
Proposition 200 would amend Tucson's Charter to mandate the hiring of significantly more police, emergency medical service and fire personnel, which would in turn require even more spending on infrastructure and equipment.
The hiring mandates would be imposed on city taxpayers regardless of economic circumstances, and they won't be cheap. Independent audits estimate Prop. 200 would cost $150 million over the next five years.
There's nothing in Prop. 200 that limits spending on the new employees to existing tax money. And there's no guarantee that the increased spending needed to fulfill the police and fire mandates would come from current money being spent on non-essential city services. Somewhere, somehow, Tucson taxpayers will have to pay the bill and you can bet that will eventually come in the form of higher taxes.
Perhaps this major new expense could be justified if Prop. 200 included a strong mechanism for ensuring it would actually result in improved public safety. But there is no consequence if the funding does not, in fact, result in better service.
Rather than streamline local government and make it more effective, Proposition 200 would simply guarantee a massive expansion of the city payroll without a guaranteed return.
There is a better way.
By tying funding to performance goals, for example, former Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett was able to cut murder rates in half and all but eliminate crime at the Texas State Fair.
Bartlett insisted crime statistics improve every month and set annual targets. He funded an overtime pool, and conditioned access to that pool based on how well an officer did his job. And officers receiving overtime were also required to work in underperforming neighborhoods and precincts.
Cities simply cannot continue to expand government without requiring improved service.
Building on Bartlett's crime-fighting successes, a recent Goldwater Institute report, "A New Charter for American Cities," recommends that funding for public-safety services be tied to performance goals.
Police and fire departments that fail to meet their goals should see their operations competitively outsourced to the county, nearby municipalities or even the private sector.
If all else fails, residents and businesses should be given property tax credits for hiring private security or fire-protection firms to furnish public safety services.
By contrast, Proposition 200 would mandate hiring scores of new government employees without requiring spending be reduced elsewhere or imposing any incentive for good performance or consequence for bad performance.
This won't put public safety first, it will just bloat city government.