The Falls Church City Council is now considering an ill-advised proposal to establish a Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, ostensibly to be composed of volunteer citizen talent, to weigh in on matters pertaining to the annual budget process.
No decision has yet been taken, but the Falls Church School Board has already indicated its unanimous opposition to the idea, and we understand why.
The short answer on this is that budgets are rightly crafted by elected officials to reflect community values and priorities. To subject them to an analysis that would be presumably indifferent to those factors would only serve to create an environment for unnecessary conflict that could undermine the climate of cooperation and shared responsibility that now exists, even during hard economic times, between the City Council and School Board, for example.
It can be effectively argued that much of what has created the current economic malaise, which brought the global economy to the brink of a total meltdown last fall, has been the reification of “fiscal” pencil-pushing techniques ahead of value or goal-oriented approaches.
The typical “fiscal-based” approach, as it applied to industry, for example, has been to advance policies for maximizing profits by a variety of means, including using buyouts and mergers to weaken competition, often leading to boardroom conclusions that it is more profitable to produce an inferior product. While countless exotic means were conceived to maximize profits, especially with the help of a radical free-market government that was willing to relax all limits on leveraging, for example, the real economy became crushed beneath a mountain of worthless debt and promissory notes. The sub-prime mortgage crisis marked the first crack in the façade of the entire and complete phony edifice that is, in fact, still in the process of crumbling.
An ostensibly detached “fiscal review” approach to the Falls Church budget, devoid of key community priorities and values, would find ways to lower costs at the expense of those core values, and would run the risk of fueling a “revolt” among citizens who don’t share those values, either, and simply want cost-cutting and lower taxes. While the recommendations of such a body would, of course, have only the power of advisement, such recommendations could be used by contrarian political forces to foment political mischief that could do serious harm to the City’s public school system and overall quality of life.
While the intention of setting up such a group may be to seek more expert input on the budget process, we fear it would harbor unintended consequences that could weaken the process in the long run. It is better for the elected School Board and City Council to work even more closely than they have in the past to grasp the immediate and long-term needs of both and to forge a value-laden pathway to the City’s future.