Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Budget is the Big Picture

As the socialist economist, Rudolf Goldscheid, once observed, “The budget is the skeleton of the state, stripped of all misleading ideologies”. For the Big Easy, the chance to re-think the allocation of resources for the next few years is a high stakes point of inflection on the trajectory to recovery. How do you preserve the chance to grow without spreading your resources so thinly that municipal order breaks down?

The increases in crime and the difficulties faced in fighting fires show that the most basic of municipal functions are under severe strain, even while the budget is propped up by FEMA funding. Weaning off FEMA funding is going to be difficult to adjust, but how does our city best approach this unpleasantness?

Specialists in corporate turnarounds (http://www.turnaround.org) often must counter objections to change. Some turnaround specialists will counter the carnivorous analogy about 'it is better to trim fat than muscle' with the parable of pruning a tree of dead branches so the trunk can support healthy foliage and grow again. This metaphor might be useful in New Orleans to consider in the continuing debate about what expenditures are appropriate to support decimated areas. Change is coming, but if it does permit organic growth, a healthier community will grow the resources necessary to tackle further problems.

Rather than let the debate about the budget degenerate into acrimony about whether Lakeview, Gentilly, the East and the Ninth Ward subsidize the sliver or vice versa, it might be better to adopt a 'no subsidy' policy across the board, allocating resources along the lines of tax revenues. The issues of subsidy is not just a hot potato, it is a nuclear bomb. It straddles all the fault lines of New Orleans society of history, pedigree, race, class, education, and generations.

One option: a situation where the City of New Orleans is carved out the Parish of Orleans. Some functions are retained at the Parish level, other functions devolve to what is first the solo municipality, but later others could be formed as the 'footprint' shrinks. Lakeview, Gentilly and the East are all immediately recognizable as possibilities for 'Harahanization'.

There is some precedent for this approach. In the 19th Century, New Orleans was broken into three 'Municipalities' which functioned semi-autonomously. If you consider some of the issues that have prevented a revision to the current land use law, a devolved power approach might be a more successful way to build the future.

It has the advantage of moving neighborhood planning details closer to the neighborhood level, where, at the very least, local decisions don't get sequenced behind other projects across town for consideration.


Sinn Fein !

1 comment:

Editor B said...

Right on. Devolution and decentralization are what we need. More democracy, more control at the neighborhood level.