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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Monday, May 19, 2008
A Project

Here's a great project for either a blogger with some time to kill or for a student who is looking for a dissertation topic for their Public Administration program.

Prove or disprove what I will call the "Reverse Washington Monument Syndrome"; there probably is a better name already in existence for this and if so I'm apologizing ahead of time.

The Washington Monument Syndrome is when during lean fiscal times, elected officials and bureaucrats threaten to cut the most popular and visible programs first, like the National Park Service stating that if Congress tries to cut its budget it will have to close the popular and cheap to operate Washington Monument.

The Reverse Washington Monument Syndrome doesn't deal with service cuts but rather tax increases. Right now on the state and local level, it's considered a political death wish to implement general increases in the sales and income tax. Rather governments use targeted increases in the sales tax that will go to pay for popular programs like the 0.2 cent increase in the Phoenix sales tax that will go to pay for increased police services or the election tomorrow that will decide whether to extend the 0.1 cent sales tax for another 30(!) years to pay for capital and operation of Phoenix parks.

You might think the government wastes your money but who could be against the police and parks? The supporters of these tax increases know that which is why I have been getting campaign fliers in the mail for tomorrow's election showing pictures of kids on playground equipment, desert landscapes, and families together. Who could be against that?

Well here's my concern and some opportunity for one of you young'ns to make their bones.

The concern is that funds raised by these targeted tax increases will end up in some fashion supplanting existing monies in these programs with the displaced resources being diverted to other, politically less popular programs. Take tomorrow's sales tax extension ballot, over the past 10 years the tax has raised about $250 million with about 90% of that figure going to the acquisition and development of preserve land and "regional parks." The proposed 30-year extension dedicates 60% of the proceeds to regional and community parks but with the added stipulation that the funds can go for "maintenance," in other words things that were already being provided for out of the general fund.

So here's the project. I don't have the projected growth figures in front of me (that would be your job) but let's be really conservative and estimate the parks tax will generate $30 million a year for a 30-year total of about $1 billion. Now you will need, in 2039, to discover whether we in fact provided an additional $1 billion worth of funding to parks and preserves or whether the City was able to use that new tax money to stop providing some general fund dollars to parks and preserves, so those public dollars could be diverted to say the future black hole known as the light rail operating budget.

Now you don't have to wait until 2039 to get going. You could take the next few years to see how that 0.2 sales tax for police was spent. You could go back and look at how the first years of the parks and preserve tax money was spent. You could back and look at the 0.5 sales tax extension for transportation we passed in Maricopa County in 2004.

Go to it and good luck.