Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the bosses who have usurped authority in the premises, and who now exercise their own sweet will in all matters relating to finances. In like manner the people of Washington are eagerly considering plans for securing a greater control over the scope and limit of public expenditures. To accomplish the results mentioned is as important, in my opinion, for the cities of the present as was the control over their finances which the barons wrested from King John so long ago.

But how shall these ends be accomplished? How shall the citizens of our ordinary cities wrest the control over their finan

cial affairs from the city bosses? And how Responsive

shall Congress be made responsive to the wishes Budgets Needed

of the citizens of Washington ? Basing my reply upon the financial history of our English-speaking peoples, I will say that the result will be accomplished only as the financial statements of our cities called “ budgets” are made budgets in fact as well as in name. They must be made complete exhibits of all facts relating to public revenue, taxation, expenditure, and debts, expressed in terms which the masses fully understand. Incomplete budgets must be displaced by complete ones, and financial proposals whose significance no one but a select few can understand must give way to those whose import can be grasped by any fairly intelligent person.

The British national budget always has three complete, analytical and detailed statements: (1) of all proposed expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year; (2) of all expected revenues for that year; and (3) of all loans that will be required in addition to the revenue to meet the expenditures. In contrast to the foregoing, a sudy of the so-called budgets of our American cities discloses the fact that with few notable exceptions they fall short of the standard of the British national government. The great majority are either incomplete, without analysis or detailed exhibits, or are incomprehensible save to a select few; and some of them embody all the imperfections mentioned. I will first speak of the most striking of these defects—their incompleteness as statements of municipal financial condition and administration.

In this connection I will give but a word to the financial program of those among our cities that do not assume even to have a budget. The council of such cities at the beginning of the year makes a tax levy of a certain number of mills on the dollar and apportions the proceeds of such levy and other revenue receipts in fixed proportions between the several departments. Subject to the limitations of the percentages of revenue assigned them, there is not even a nominal popular control over the financial transactions. Such policy of administration takes us back in British affairs to the days of Charles and Cromwell, and suggests quite forcibly the need of arousing public spirit and the introduction of something approaching business methods in administering municipal affairs.

The budgets of the great majority of American cities that make a pretense of conducting governmental affairs on a business basis, and which pass appropriations in stated amounts for specified purposes or objects, fall short of the British national standard in a number of particulars. Their principal defects are their incompleteness and their lack of systematic arrangement, and thus of lucid or intelligible presentation. These defects will be considered in the order here mentioned.

A fe and only a very few, of our cities embody a complete exhibit of their administrative program for a given year in their

financial proposals, or so-called budgets, subCompleteness a mitted as the basis of the year's appropriations. Requisite

These cities bring into one statement estimates of their expenditures for the coming year for all purposes, whether for departmental maintenance or permanent structures and improvements. Such statements, whether constructed along intelligible lines or otherwise, show the relation of revenue to expenditures, and the effect of the proposed financial transactions of the year upon the municipal credit or indebtedness. They disclose whether the expenditures will exceed or fall short of the revenue, and thus whether the expenditures must be met in part by the issue of bonds or by other forms of credit; or whether the end of the year will find the city's indebtedness de creased, or its available resources increased.

In contrast with the foregoing, the average American city, if it prepares estimates of the costs of government for the ensuing year, prepares them in sections and acts upon them at different times ; so that the general public cannot from any single proposal before the city council form a correct opinion upon any of the points specified. The cities whose financial proposals are the most defective in these particulars are those which introduce and pass the revenue appropriation bills, or appropriations for departmental expenses, in a number of sections. In such cities the proposed expenditures for the department first considered in council proceedings cannot be considered in their relation to the needed expenditures for other departments, or to the effect of current appropriations upon tax rates. The minds back of the curtain that direct the shifting of the scenes and shape appropriations for all departments may know what effect will result; but the people at large can gain no knowledge upon which to base intelligent protest or approval until approval or protest in the premises becomes too late.

This method of submitting estimates and making revenue appropriations tends inevitably to departmental favoritism. The department to be favored will have its appropriations considered first, at a time and under conditions such that the effect of wasteful grants and the relation of all grants to tax levies and to debt cannot be clearly seen. To enable public opinion to take form as a controling power over governmental expenditures, all departmental estimates, including the estimates for outlays as well as for expenses, must be considered at the same time and reviewed in their relation to the tax rate and public debt.

The most common of the divided financial municipal estimates or proposals, such as are here mentioned, are those which sepa

rate expenditures to be met from revenue, from Separate those to be met from the proceeds of bond Revenue

issues. This division of the financial proposals Appropriations

and estimates is very common among the cities of the United States which are rapidly increasing their funded debt. To one division of the appropriation they generally give the designation “budget ” or “budgetary”. A more appropriate name would be “revenue appropriations "; since they are the

” appropriations to be met from “revenue”. These appropriations may be embodied in a single ordinance, as in New York City, or in a half-dozen distinct and separate ordinances, as in some other cities. The great defect and the resulting evils which follow the separation of revenue appropriations into several sections acted upon by separate ordinances have already been noted. The separation of appropriations to be met from revenue from those to be met from bond issues differs in extent, but not in principle, from the division of the revenue appropriations into groups to be acted upon at different times and without reference one to the other. It prevents the concentration of the attention of the masses upon questionable appropriations. This result of separating revenue from bond appropriations is felt in all cities in which the provisions of the charter or of general statutes do not compel a referendum vote upon all bond issues. Where such referendum is required, the separation mentioned, instead of working mischief, generally secures an added popular supremacy and control over revenue as well as bond appropriations.

The ordinary revenue appropriation, generally called "budget appropriation comes closer to the British budget in completeness when passed in one division than when enacted in a number. But even the single revenue appropriation ordinance of American cities seldom contains complete provision for all the expenditures that are fittingly called “ revenue”. As a rule it commonly provides for meeting from 90 to 95 per cent. of the current costs of maintaining the departments and public service enterprises-costs which the Bureau of the Census, following the general usage of commercial accountants, calls “expenses”. They also generally provide for meeting all sinking-fund requirements, and all special debts which fall due in the current year, and whose liquidation is not met by sinking fund assets, but leave at least 10 per cent. of the current expenses of the city unprovided for.

Thus, New York, in its so-called budget for 1908, which had a total of $140,572,266 of appropriations, included in that total

$100,129,000 for meeting departmental expenses, New York as an and $8,368,000 for liquidating so-called " special Example

revenue bonds". The latter appropriation was made necessary by departmental expenses for the preceding fiscal year, not provided for by the general financial appropriation of 1908. Here is a failure to include over 8 per cent. of the current costs of departments in the appropriations for the year for which those costs were incurred. The possible evil or mischief of this practice may be noted by the following fact: By this method of preparing financial proposals, many large appropriations for meeting current expenses are made when there is no public discussion or even general knowledge of the budget. This practice allows political bosses to grant favored branches of the service larger amounts than appear on the surface, and never permits any ready and accurate statement to be made from the appropriations of the actual and relative costs of any of the branches of the service.

But New York City is not a sinner above all others in the matter of additional or supplemental appropriations. The great majority of cities which permit large appropriations for deficiencies and meet the same by revenue bonds, revenue warrants, or other means, must be placed in the same list.

Budgets should be honest exhibits of the plans of the administration. They cannot be honest until they are full, complete, and explicit; until they are such, they are like all other deceptive statements——the agents of dishonest, inefficient and wasteful government. To make budgets the agents of good and efficient government, they must be exhibits of all the expenses which administrative officers are expected to incur but not to exceed) during the ensuing fiscal year. In Great Britain, save in such extraordinary emergencies as a great war, there are no appropriations that are not “ budget appropriations". The budget is a statement of all desired or contemplated appropriations or expenditures for the ensuing year. The people in discussing it are considering all the costs of government for a year. From a lucid and intelligible presentation of such a budget (such as Gladstone was accustomed to make, and such as the Honorable Lloyd George made this year) the people can form an intelligent opinion concerning the relation of the budgetary provisions to their own interests, wishes and expectations. But what ordinary citizen, from a budget such as is presented by the average American city, can form an intelligent judgment concerning the effect of the municipal expenditures upon public debt, or the relative merit

« AnteriorContinuar »