Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Guest opinion: Use economics in balancing budget

After the public forum held last week regarding the Tucson budget, I concur – as do many – that the city needs to prioritize outlays, cut the budget where necessary and defer raising taxes given the state of our economy.

What I suggest, in the form of a pilot program, is the deployment of the field of economic research to assist the mayor and council members to better allocate scarce resources.

This is probably as foreign to you as it would be to the elected city officials. And you may think it unlikely that an intellectual pursuit such as economics would intersect with the political agenda of balancing the city budget. You would be wrong.

Many of the highly specialized fields within economics can answer such vexing questions as: What is the optimum level of service for police and fire?

(The correct answer – surprisingly – is not how Tucson compares with other cities of similar size, or what the police and fire unions demand of certain staffing and support levels, or even what the mayor, council members and public think it should otherwise be.)

Others would include: What are the contributing factors to the supply and demand for crime? How can the economic theory of “deadweight loss” be avoided in the form of excess burden of taxation?

These and many other questions can be answered under the umbrella of economics.

Please be clear, I am not necessarily advocating for the direct employment of an economist by the city, but rather a partnership with the department of economics at the University of Arizona.

Apparently such an alliance already exists mainly for the purpose of economic forecasting. This could be expanded to include the efficient allocation of city resources based on economic science.

In the end, the city budget is a political document. I understand that.

Yet it seems rather unreasonable we would expect the mayor and council members to determine service levels, and then efficiently and fairly allocate city resources without complete information.

David Dutra, a Linux enterprise solutions software developer, has a bachelor’s degree in economics and advocates use of economic research to provide for more effective public policy at all levels of government.

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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