Mr. Einstein, Meet Mr. Stengel


A quote attributed to Albert Einstein is that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If so, then tonight’s City Council meeting promises to provide some insanity, as our City Council is expected to respond to Mayor Dave Schmidt’s call for filling the $2 million deficit in the 2009-10 budget – by going an additional $39,000 in the hole on handouts to private community groups. 

These are the same Alder-dunces who helped former City Manager “Tiny Tim” Schuenke foist on us unsuspecting taxpayers the budgets in 2007-08 and 2008-09 which posted, collectively, over $3 million in deficits while at the same time making sure that those private community groups got tax dollars that could have gone toward such important infrastructure needs as relief sewers or street repaving.

And if that’s not insane enough for a community who’s finances are already on the ropes, look for the Council to also approve only a 5% increase in water rates, thereby locking in a $400,000 deficit in the City’s water fund for the coming year.  Unless, of course, they want to get even nuttier and follow the lead of Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) and Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) in rejecting any water rate increase, despite a 15% increase in the price of water that Chicago is charging Park Ridge!

Our new mayor apparently re-thought the insanity of a third straight deficit budget while on post-election R&R in Hawaii, and upon his return he called for an amendment to balance that budget the night he was sworn in (May 4).  Unfortunately, we have seen and heard nothing from City staff that offers any hope for filling the current budget hole.  And it sounds as if a solid majority, if not a unanimity, of the City Council is ready to make that hole even deeper by approving the over-budget giveaways to those community groups because (according to Ald. Jim  Allegretti (4th Ward)) they “add, dollar for dollar, a lot more than we give them.”

Oh yeah?  Prove it!

If those organizations really provide such obvious and indisputably important services at such bargain-basement prices, why do they need handouts from City government in the first place?  Can’t the taxpayers themselves see all that value they provide and contribute directly from their own pockets far more money than what the City is donating, ostensibly on their behalf? 

After all, that’s the essence of why (according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker in his May 10, 2009, post on the Becker-Posner blog) the great socio-political philosophers John Locke, David Hume and Adam Smith opposed “big government” and favored the private decision-making of individuals rather than the decision-making of hamstrung government bureaucrats and the special interests who are adept at manipulating them.  To those keen thinkers, even wrong decisions leading to bad outcomes are useful because they provide learning experiences that improve future decision-making.

As we’ve said before, most of those organizations do add some value to the quality of life in our community, although we have yet to see it quantified in any objective or credible way.  More importantly, however, as private entities they are not required to be accountable to the taxpayers – nor do they really try to be, as shown by the fact that most/all of them don’t even post their financial reports, payrolls, etc. on their own websites for the public to scrutinize.  As we see it, that’s reason enough to deny them scarce tax dollars in the middle of a fiscal crisis.

But if the Council wants to be fiscally irresponsible in that fashion, then it should come up with some countervailing frugality.  For example, Bach has made repeated calls to “cut senior management,” but he has offered nothing specific on what positions should be cut to reduce the $2 million deficit, or even to make up for the extra $39,000 giveaway to those community groups.  That should come as no surprise to anybody who remembers his all talk, no action response to the new O’Hare runway, or his vote to give as much as $2.4 million of our tax dollars to Napleton Cadillac only because (so he claimed) 30 of his constituents he polled told him they favored it. 

And what else but insanity can be blamed for certain Council members’ seemingly mindless opposition to increasing the price of water dollar-for-dollar to reflect its increased cost?  When our elected officials follow up two successive budget shortfall years by passing a budget with a built-in $2 million deficit, one that will burn off needed fund balances to subsidize (and thereby implicitly encourage) water consumption, they are engaging not only in bad government but in bad economics that smacks of political pandering to boot.

In the early 1960s, the manager of the expansion New York Mets reacted to yet another bumbling loss with the question: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”  If Casey Stengel were alive today and managing the Park Ridge City Council, he could ask that very same question.