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What it Means to be a Fiscal Conservative

Sometimes you have to spend money to save it!

As is almost always the case when a political appellation gets co-opted, the term “fiscal conservative” has come to mean something other than what it should—a faithful steward of the taxpayers’ money.

Under the reigning assumption that all government spending is inherently bad, it now defines a politician who can only say the word “no!”

Though it’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart, there should be a marked difference between a curmudgeon and a conservative. A conservative stays out of peoples’ private lives and understands that circumstances exist where spending money now can save you so much more in the long run. A curmudgeon doesn’t.

Look, I understand the pitfalls of dealing with unions and that going to arbitration is an all-or-nothing thing, but agreeing to for the for the next four years, at a time when most of us have taken pay cuts, is utterly obscene.

And it’s the fact that Mayor Kevin Burns simply cannot say no to city employees that makes him anything but a fiscal conservative. While I would urge them to make do with what they have, I’m sure the police will also be granted their requests for a replacement vehicle and new technology.

All I can say is, I hope the city does a lot better when it comes time to negotiate with electric utility employees.

But while I will continue to issue the clarion call for holding the line on municipal labor and equipment costs, just as I did in the column on my , there are times when spending money is exactly the right thing to do.

I’ll say it again, if the city had the you-know-whats to “persuade” Joe Stanton to head up that development group, I’d personally contribute a portion my hard earned money to his salary right now.

Along the same lines, when it comes to the generally earnest endeavors of the not-so-widely-known Geneva Mental Health Board, I say we have another case of money well spent. Here's why: The $139,000 in 2011 Geneva taxpayer dollars spent by the Mental Health Board may well have saved us 10 times that amount. It’s too bad the effect of these kind of proactive and preventative measures can’t be measured.

For example, we’ll never know how many ships that well-placed lighthouse might have saved.

Charged with providing grants to organizations that serve Genevans, the worthwhile causes that received GMHB funds included, CASA Kane County, Ecker Center, Fox Valley Hospice, Haley’s Playground, Lazarus House, Renz Addiction, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Suicide Prevention Services and TriCity Family Services.

I get a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about it!

Were it not for the efforts of those fine folks, who tend to toil behind the scenes, especially during these difficult economic times, the least of our brothers and sisters would end up in court, in jail, in emergency rooms, or under the auspices of an already overburdened government program like DCFS.

If you haven’t already taken a tour of St. Charles’ Lazarus House homeless shelter (I have), I heartily encourage you to do so. It is absolutely amazing just how far those folks can stretch a dollar. If the people of Illinois had the smarts to ensconce former Lazarus House Director Darlene Marcusson in that Springfield mansion, our $8 billion budget deficit would be wiped out in two short years.

So as I watched former alderman Jim Radecki speak in favor of reexamining the existence of the Geneva Mental Health Board during last week’s Channel 10 City Council meeting broadcast—and also saw some of the aldermen agree with him—I started shouting at the TV just like I do when the Cubs start screwing up.

I understand there may be issues with the board hanging on to some funds for a special project to be named later, but then let’s deal directly with that and try not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

If there’s one part of the city budget I’d like to see doubled (or more), this is the it, because it heads off the kind of expenses that routinely kill the taxpayer. Catching someone after they fall through the social safety net is always a losing proposition.

Calling yourself a fiscal conservative not only means knowing when to stop spending our money, but understanding when disbursing that sacred tax revenue actually has greater long-term benefits.

robert poznanski March 21, 2012 at 03:13 PM
The one thing that "fiscal conservatives" do seem to lack lately is the logic to access what is a "good' program, and an easily suspended one! In the rush to demonstrate their "conservative leanings" to a stressed constituent base",they. indeed, will,as you say," toss out the baby, with the bath water!" When are we going to demand that our politicians represent the "common good", and not the latest political stance! It is logic and wisdom that should be the driving force, behind public service, not political leanings! However, you DO have to be elected! That, is the real problem, of political, life!!
Angela Kane March 21, 2012 at 04:43 PM
"Under the reigning assumption that all government spending is inherently bad, it now defines a politician who can only say the word “no!”" This is not true, and everyone knows it. Being a fiscal conservative means taking great care to spend the taxpayers' hard earned money wisely--not extravagantly or stupidly (as way too many public officials have done locally, statewide, and nationally). You don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat to be a fiscal conservative--you just have to have and show respect for the taxpayers. Are education and public safety necessary places to spend public money? Of course, but HOW the $ are spent and on WHAT requires sound judgment. Do we want good (or great) schools and safe streets? Of course. Maybe we need some sharp pencils and a much more respect for the taxpayers (and a dose of reality) to get where we need to be.
Jeff Ward March 21, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Robert, Hear here! Jeff
Jeff Ward March 21, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Zach, Yikes! I fear I may have slipped into an alternate quantum reality, but it always costs so many more taxpayer dollars when you "pay later." Jeff
Patrick Sennett March 21, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Couldn't get past the second paragraph without hitting the first strawman, "all government spending is bad". Jeff, it's a bad habit of lazy intellectualism, to have to rely on false assumptions and stereotypes to have to make your argument seem reasonable. That said, imagine if you will, that the mayor says he needs to renegotiate the police contact because the agreed-upon raises were unseemly in this time of economic calamity. Who would be trumpeting "Burns screws the hard-working police officers, who are only trying to put their kids through college"? Oh, and calling yourself an economic conservative, or a conservative at all, doesn't make it so. Witness Mitt Romney.
Jeff Ward March 21, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Patrick, Straw man? The Tea Party would have rather seen the country default than raise taxes on the richest inhabitants. And what did Grover Norquist do? As Rahm Emanuel has done, there is a time to play hardball with the unions. But Mayor Burns, for better or worse, cannot say no to city employees. Considering what most of us have been through economically, he would have had the city's wholehearted support. Talk about straw men! Thinking he'd take criticism for holding the line against a union is the entire bale of hay. Any number of times through this election cycle, the Mayor referred to himself as a fiscal conservative. He's not! He's a Republican moderate and that's how both he and Mitt Romney should have run. Jeff He isn't! He's a moderate
Colin C. March 21, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Jeff, the problem here is that we expect people to be reasonable and, maybe somewhat consistent? Or something. I had a horrible revelation last week and still can't sleep. My wife and I attended the current production of the 1960s musical Hair at the Paramount last week. It's a fabulous production and talk about flashback! All of a sudden I was in 1968 again with sex, drugs, rock and roll, and all the rest. Oh Man, Far out!!! And then I realized the truth and futility of human existence. These long haired, rebellious Hippies are the people who now make up the Tea Party!!! We are all doomed!!!
Jeff Ward March 21, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Colin, I've known that for years! Jeff
Justin Eggar March 21, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Alright, when you two are ready to give the Globe back their content... could we get a nice piece on the Geneva Film Festival or something?

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