Friday, May 22, 2009

Is this seriously their new argument?

Yesterday I read this editorial in the S&E. It was mostly boring "give us whatever services we demand, but screw everyone else" bullshit, but one particularly odd pseudo-argument stuck out at me.

Here it is, with my bolding added:
We urge the mayor to remember she is still proposing a $92 million budget, which we feel should be more than enough to not only reject the idea of reducing the days of operation at the library and Senior Center, but to increase them.
Obviously, this stuck out because the fact that there's a $92 million town budget has fuck-all to do with there being money to spend on any particular service.

It's not like there's just a pile of 92 million dollar bills sitting around, unspoken for. The vast majority of it is going to be tied up, and there are far more programs and services that deserve funding than $92 million can cover.

Budgeting is about choosing what gets part of that money and what doesn't. The total amount of money in the budget is somewhat irrelevant, unless it's so high that you can fund absolutely everything anyone suggests, or so low that you can't even fund the very basics. Even the richest of oil-rich nations don't fall into the first group, and few (if any) places in the US fall into the latter one. Everyone else needs to make choices about what to fit within the available budget.

Using the town's $92 million budget to suggest that money is readily available for any particular purpose is about as sensible as using Sudan's $12.95 billion budget to claim they should have no problem building a dozen world-class hockey rinks. That's just not the way it works, guys.

But we expect to find baffling non sequiturs presented as arguments in everything McMenemy writes, so it wasn't such a big deal.

Then just this morning, I noticed this (my bold):
"I have said all along that I don't believe we need to implement any kind of waste disposal ordinance in order to generate revenue because our budget is still in the mid-90 million (range)," [City Councilor Dean] Tran wrote in an e-mail.
I don't know who's stealing whose talking point there, or if Tran is actually just as pathetically clueless as McMenemy and they both arrived at their red herring independently, but it really doesn't matter. It's a stupid argument, no matter where it originated.

There may be sound arguments against a trash fee (although I've yet to hear anyone present one), but just mentioning the size of the entire budget is absolutely not one of them. You could have a $92 million budget with a trash fee paying for part of it and helping to fund services, or you could have a $92 million budget with no trash fee and fewer services.

And that's assuming a balanced budget. If revenues are below expenses we're still screwed, even if it were a $92 billion budget.

The total size of the budget is irrelevant to this argument. Well, it's irrelevant unless Tran believes that every service that deserves funding can be funded perfectly well on this size. Maybe he does, but since I haven't seen giant billboards listing the names of all area sex offenders at 100-yard intervals on every street in town, I'm going to bet he doesn't.

Of course, it's possible that Tran and McMenemy know that they're putting forward nonsense arguments. In which case they're just using the size of the budget as a rhetorical tool, because they think you're stupid enough to fall for it.

So we're left with two choices: Either the editor of the local newspaper and a prominent city councilor are totally clueless, or they believe that we're the clueless ones and that we'll fall for their nonsensical rhetoric.

Neither one especially fills me with hope.