Is Fiscal Responsibility a Taboo for Democrats?

By Bill Oakey

September 16, 2013

A recent article in the Austin American-Statesman grabbed my attention and made me ponder that question.  I thought we were long past the notion that cutting governmental budgets and making life more affordable for taxpayers was somehow restricted to Republicans.

Here’s how the conversation got started.  Travis County Commissioner, Gerald Daugherty, happens to be a Republican.  In the ongoing budget discussions at the Commissioners Court, Mr. Daugherty took the time to prepare an alternative budget.  His plan would only spend $5.6 million more than last year, and all of that money would come from increases in construction revenue.  The staff’s proposed budget would spend $40 million more.

Some of Commissioner Daugherty’s cuts may be considered controversial, such as eliminating an across the board pay raise for County employees.  But he also questioned the need to hire more middle managers in one department, and he listed quite a few items that he would either cut entirely or reduce in funding.  He made another list of items he would support if comparable cuts could be found in other places.  It’s a worthwhile gesture, even if not everyone would agree with some of the specifics.

The community-wide focus on affordability has elevated the need for politicians of both parties to work aggressively to hold down tax increases and look for innovative ways to find efficiencies.  A recent American-Statesman article about Commissioner Daugherty’s alternative budget raised the specter of old ghosts that apparently still haunt the Commissioners Court.  Some commissioners commented that Democrats could not be expected to match Daugherty’s enthusiasm for voting no on so many budget items, or campaigning to reduce taxes.

Well, here’s my response to that.  Halloween is coming.  It’s time to cast out the old ghosts from the past and think in terms of modern times.  Democrats are capable not only of practicing fiscal responsibility, but even doing it better than Republicans.  How about the fact that the United States was well on its way to eliminating the budget deficit under Bill Clinton? We had a robust economy.

Some final thoughts about Gerald Daugherty.  I am sure that I would not agree with all of his votes.  But then I would probably say that about most anybody else in office.  Commissioner Daugherty supports funding for social service programs to help the less fortunate in the community, although often at a lower level than the proposed budget.  But consider this.  He made personal site visits to every non-profit that requested funding under this year’s budget.  That’s something that even Democrats in his precinct position have not done.

So, when it comes to fiscal responsibility, as well as compassion, there are lessons that can be learned from both parties.  The most important one is that Austin and Travis County need more cooperation and focus on affordability.  And that means tossing out old fashioned notions about either party being able to lay claim to any strategy that will get us there.

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