View from the Cordillera
A Commentary on Achieving Excellence in Local Government
Read by Municipal Leaders on 4 Continents
Published by the Cordillera Institute
Assessing Policy Proposals
Amalgamation: The Siren Song for Local Government
(Vol. 1, Issue 25)
This issue is part 1 of a 2-part series on municipal amalgamation. The 'Amalgamation Theme' was a 'top tune' in the 1990s. These days, it's something of an 'oldie'. But, since there are still 'stations' that want to 'play' it, we put it on the 'turntable' and give it another 'spin'. No, this isn't an audition for DJs. It's a critical look at a public policy which has made local government much less local and much more bureaucratic and expensive. However, since most of our news still comes to us from the major media the television networks and the newspaper syndicates, the case we hear most often is the case favoring amalgamation. To provide some sense of balance to this generally 1-sided debate, we review our experience with municipal consolidation. Starting with the claims made by its advocates, we examine just how well those claims have held up in municipalities which have been through the process. We focus on the claims of more streamlined operations, of greater efficiency, and of more effective business attraction. We also look at the perils of being a small municipality merged with a larger one.
Forced Amalgamation: A Policy on the Rocks
(Vol. 1, Issue 26)
This issue is part 2 of a 2-part series on municipal amalgamation. Our review of this policy continues by examining the remaining claims of those who favor merging our municipalities. Claims include less duplication of facilities and equipment, reduced overlap, fewer politicians, improved accountability, and favorable tax consequences. We examine each of those claims and compare them to what forced amalgamation actually produced. With any policy, no matter how flawed, someone benefits. Amalgamation is no exception. The issue concludes with a look at who benefits from municipal mergers and who are its enablers.
School Closings: A Symptom Requiring Immediate Treatment
(Vol. 2, Issue 42)
In an issue of Urban Voice, the bi-monthly newsletter of SUMA (the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association), there were 2 items on school closures. The sequence of events described in those pieces was distressingly familiar. First, the province had engineered a consolidation of local school boards. Next, under the guise of 'improving the educational experience' and saving money, the new regional boards are considering plans to close as many as 52 schools all in small urban and rural municipalities. It's tough enough when schools in cities are closed but it's much worse when the targets are in our smaller communities. Since many small communities have correspondingly small economic bases, the loss of a school can be a serious blow to the local economy. And, the community may also lose all of the extra-curricular activities for residents of all ages and other benefits that having an operating school can provide. But, most importantly, the closing of a school can be a very trying experience for all the children and parents affected. School-district consolidations and school closings are symptoms of a more serious, chronic condition. In this issue, we examine that condition and recommend a treatment. If you are concerned about keeping the schools in your community open and keeping the control of your children's education in local hands, this issue offers some answers.
Should There Be a Province of Toronto ... or a State of Los Angeles?
(Vol. 1, Issue 38)
One of our long-time Members, David Vallance, ran for Mayor of Toronto this year. The key plank in his platform was to obtain provincial status for what is now the City of Toronto. In Issue 01.35, we talked briefly about the creation of new municipalities as part of our discussion on the optimum municipal size. In this issue, our topic is the question of creating a new 2nd tier jurisdiction (a province or a state). For the same reason that we support the creation of new municipalities, we support the creation of new 2nd-tier governments in principle. That said, the creation of any new government whether a province, a state, or a municipality should follow a 3-step procedure. First is the drafting of a proposal. Second is the analysis of that proposal. And, third is putting the proposal to a vote. We cover the basics of each step, noting who should draft the proposal and who should pay the costs. With that background in mind, we see if the proposal for a new Province of Toronto measures up.
Can We Spend Our Way Out of a Downturn?
(Vol. 3, Issue 42)
There are those in our senior governments who claim that reversing economic downturns is simply a matter of them spending more of our money. And, some leaders of our larger municipal governments seem to agree. Whenever the public calls for government at all levels to 'do something' to 'fix' the economy, these advocates of more spending have a ready answer. To quiet those who question the past record of this approach, they claim that their spending will create jobs, add needed infrastructure, improve education and health care, protect the environment, and increase aid to the unemployed and the poor. As these are all worthy objectives, we examine each in turn to see if their favored spending programs will assist in regrowing the economy or whether there is another agenda.
More on the Myth of Priming the Pump
(Vol. 3, Issue 43)
A long-time friend of our Institute raised some important questions on our previous commentary Can We Spend Our Way Out of a Downturn? This issue (part 4 in our series on Recession-Proofing Your Municipality) is our response to those questions. Who is promoting the prime-the-pump agenda? How can we identify those behind it? What are their 3 favorite spending 'taps'? What is their cue to open those taps wide? How long will they leave them open? Is all senior-government spending the problem? What are among the surest signs that government-firsters are in charge? In theory, is there a problem with government creating jobs in the private sector? What actually happens in practice? This issue looks at the 2 main approaches. Starting with an example of creating 'green' jobs, it assesses the results of both approaches. The commentary concludes with an answer to the question: can we reverse the current downturn?
The Recipe for Reversing Economic Downturns
(Vol. 3, Issue 44)
This issue (part 5 in our series on Recession-Proofing Your Municipality) begins with some final thoughts on priming the pump. Why is it so difficult for the central planners charged with priming the pump to pick the right targets for their spending targets which will truly restart the economy? To answer that question, we examine the role of specialized knowledge and what motivates their spending decisions. If priming the pump is not the answer, what should our governments be doing to reverse economic downturns? The answer is the approach noted at the end of the previous commentary. If this approach brings better returns than spending, where should our governments be investing? What makes this the better investment choice? Will this investment create jobs? Will it add infrastructure? This issue provides the recipe used by those governments which have successfully reversed economic downturns.
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 1)
(Vol. 4, Issue 43)
There was a time when the budget debate in Wisconsin competed for top major-media billing with the overthrow of a dictator in Egypt and major demonstrations in many other countries of the Middle East. Behind all the hoopla in Madison (the Wisconsin state capital) which, for a time, was featured on the national newscasts, not just in the U.S. but here in Canada as well, there was a serious debate which received much less attention from the major media. A primary purpose of our publication is to fill in the gaping voids in the major-media coverage of those issues which have an impact on local government. And, the Wisconsin budget debate of 2011 is certainly 1 of those issues. In this commentary, we answer questions like the following. Why were there major demonstrations in Madison? What are the specific issues at stake? What is the status of public employment in Wisconsin? What are those public employees paid? How much is deducted for their pensions? What do they pay for their health-care insurance? What permissions have state laws granted to public-sector unions in Wisconsin? What was done with the federal bailout money that this state received in prior years? And, the final question for part 1 of this series: is the opposition party assisting to find a solution? If your state, province, or nation is struggling with a budget crisis, you will want to see just what Wisconsin is proposing for its state and for its local governments. This commentary will provide you with information that most major-media coverage hasn't.
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 2)
(Vol. 4, Issue 44)
Whenever voters elect a government (whether national, state, provincial, or local) that follows through on their promises to advance the people-first agenda, we can expect the coalition of statists and the special interests who feed off the government-first agenda to do 'whatever it takes' to derail any proposed reforms. This has been very evident in the U.S. State of Wisconsin where mass protests and multiple acts of what the major media like to call 'civil disobedience' but which, far too often, are violations of our laws are being used in an attempt to defeat a people-first reform package. Because this reform package will empower local-government organizations in that state to return to the path of excellence, it's important to see how much is at stake and just how far opponents will go to prevent it. And, because you may expect some or all of the actions taken by reform opponents in Wisconsin should your organization or another government in your jurisdiction be so bold as to propose people-first reforms I want you to be prepared to weather the storms that will surely follow. What we witnessed in Wisconsin was anything but a series of spontaneous and unrelated events. Rather, those events were the closely related parts of a well-worn script. To learn what most major-media coverage has omitted, be sure to read the full text of this commentary.
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 3)
(Vol. 4, Issue 45)
Even though the protests in Madison (the state capital of the U.S. State of Wisconsin) have ended and even though the major-media 'circus', with its cast of 'celebrities' and 'experts', has left town, things there have been far from quiet. After defying a state law prohibiting public-sector strikes (by ruling that the protests were not strikes), the same activist circuit-court judge ignored a several-decades-old Wisconsin Supreme Court decision by preventing the reform legislation (which had been passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor) from taking effect. With the fate of this legislation in limbo for at least 60 days, this commentary will conclude our series on budgetary and labor-law reform in Wisconsin. In this issue, we ask the big question: Should you be asking your state, province, or national government to adopt reforms similar to those being proposed in Wisconsin? To assist you in making that decision, there are other questions to be answered. Why was there so much opposition to the Wisconsin reforms? Why was there such fierce political opposition? Will the reforms benefit local-government organizations in that state? If so, will similar reforms benefit the local-government organizations in your state or province? Will they benefit the public who have to pay the bills? For the answers to those questions, be sure to read the full text of this commentary.