OK, OK, so a columnist can sit back and throw tomatoes all day long when public figures mess things up, but when they get something right, it's gutless not to tip the old cap to the perpetual punching bags. I'm talking about the Tucson City Council's brilliant Fourth of July maneuver last week; it was a stroke of genius.
The council has been in teeth-gnashing, hand-wringing mode for months now over a budget that was bleeding red ink. Draconian measures are being put in place to stem the tide—everything from city workers being forced to take unpaid leave to bus rates being raised. (Of course, there is still going to be funding for "the arts"; I said "draconian," not "reasonable.")
Last week, after the city manager famously "found" money in the pockets of people who don't even live in the city, the council went back to work by arguing over which outside agencies would get some of the city's found money. Question: Why does the council give money to outside agencies? This is one of those questions you don't want to ask in public, because snooty people (who are mostly dumbasses) will look at you like, "How dare you ask that?" while a smart, everyday person will reply, "I've always wondered that, too."
Americans are wildly generous people. If a charity is a good cause, it will survive and even thrive in America. If it blows, a city's taxpayers shouldn't have to prop it up. I sincerely don't understand why a city government is paying people to write crappy poetry or ride bikes or celebrate made-up holidays.
Seriously, just think how popular a council would be if they got together and said, "We're going to provide our residents with good streets, professional policing, public transportation, good sewers and dedicated firefighters. And that's it. So your taxes are going to go down."
Those people could get re-elected by acclamation for life. But who would do such a thing? There's no fun in that kind of minimalist agenda. No, they want to sit up there and toss alms to the self-proclaimed poor. They don't want to hold council meetings; they want public spectacles with Native American drumming and Mike Candrea sightings.
But getting back to what they did right: Last week, the Tucson City Council turned its pockets inside-out and said, "Sorry, we can't afford to hold a Fourth of July fireworks celebration this year. We're just tapped out. It's the economy; you understand."
There was an initial outcry, because there is still money in the budget for a wide range of "You're freakin' kidding me!" items, including the El Tour de Tucson and the Tucson Pima Arts Council Open Studio Tour. Yes, the city pays $10,000 to get people to tour some studios. I get the feeling they pay 400 homeless people $25 each to run the studio gauntlet from Fourth Avenue to the Tucson High School football stadium.
Then there's another $10,000 for the Fort Lowell Shootout soccer tournament. Soccer? Really? If you're going to claim that teams come from all over the place to play in that thing, shouldn't they bring enough money with them to pay for the entry fee, which should include things like, oh, the cost of running the event? Besides, running a soccer tournament should cost you about $40 for supplies and a couple hundred dollars for some bad trophies.
And then they spend tens of thousands of dollars for a whole bunch of ethnic festivals (not to be mistaken for the aforementioned soccer thing).
But the furor suddenly died down when private citizens and companies came to the rescue and threw money at the council to be used for fireworks. In a little more than one day, enough money, and then some, was raised to light up the skies over "A" Mountain on the night of the Fourth of July.
The council members are geniuses! They're like that guy who out-fumbles you while going for his wallet to pay for the dinner check. "You know, we love America, too, and we'd really love to honor our country, but in these tough economic times, it just wouldn't be right to spend money on a fireworks display. But if you really want to spring for it, we can't turn you down. We'll get the check next time."
So we'll have fireworks, and it won't cost Tucson taxpayers a dime. Now, how long before this idea spreads to other things funded by the city?
A fertilizer company could sponsor the Rodeo Parade and, um, sweep up the proceeds. Adult-beverage companies could help out with the festivals. Heck, they could use the proceeds from St. Patrick's Day to pay for everything else for the rest of the year.
Of course, I would have just cut other stuff from the budget to pay for the fireworks, which are both symbolic and important. Heck, I would trade a year's worth of "arts" funding for 20 good minutes of fireworks.
Next year, if Tucson is still hurting, the council could condemn the Warehouse District and take a torch to the place. They'd have a really great light show, and it would save the city millions.
Just a thought.