The election of ultra-liberal Bill de Blasio to the New York mayor’s office broke a 20 year streak of non-Democrat mayors of the largest city in the United States. Currently, less than 25 percent of the 50 largest U.S. cities are headed by Republicans. Contrary to this popular trend, however, conservatism offers the best way forward for cities. Republicans can start winning more and more in cities by running on a simple platform of a “back-to-basics budget.”
A back-to-basics budget is one that focuses spending on only necessary and appropriate functions of a city government. Specifically this would mean basic infrastructure (roads, sewers, sidewalks), schools, libraries, police and firefighters. I believe that with the right amount of salesmanship a candidate could win over much of the typical Democrat coalition, including teacher’s unions and city workers. Why would this work?
Let’s start with the assumption that every dollar spent on city cultural initiatives or ordinance enforcement is money that is taken from the basic and necessary functions of a city government. For example, New York City spent over $20 million in 2013 on the “Department of Cultural Affairs.” Similarly, Chicago has an office of “Cultural Affairs”, “Buildings” and “Human Relations.” At the same time, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel closed 50 schools across the city, mainly in poorer, black neighborhoods. Now if I was a family that just saw my neighborhood school closed, or a teacher that was just put out of a job, I would be receptive of a candidate who sought to funnel money back in to the schools and cut frivolous departments that spend taxpayer money on art shows or inspecting apartments for numerous building ordinances.
The wave of winter weather hitting the country makes for a brilliant case study in well-managed city government. For example, Chicago was recently hit my multiple snow storms, resulting in the city blowing through half of their snow removal budget for all of 2014, spending $11 million of a $20 million budget. There is no excuse for a city to not have enough money to spend on basic functions like keeping streets clean and clear. Residents and businesses benefit way more from well-maintained and cleared roads than they do from cultural affairs programs.
A small government that does a few functions well is much better than a large government which does many functions at an average or poor capacity. The GOP should seek to run candidates in cities like Detroit and Chicago whose platforms focus on keeping taxes low by only spending money on necessary functions.
Matthew Lamb | Loyola University | @mlmb24