Too bad everybody can't come downtown and hang out in the lobby outside the city council chamber every other Wednesday, because that's pretty much the only way to understand what the hell's going on. Yesterday the council rammed through this "flow control" thing, ordering by law all commercial trash haulers who pick up trash within the city limits to stop taking it to cheaper suburban landfills and bring all of it instead to the city of Dallas landfill.
Does something just seem very odd here? Why do we want more trash? You're right. It is weird. City staff offered all kinds of complete bullshit about how they're going to turn "trash to treasure" and make a ton of money mining fart-gas out of the dump.
The problem? It may not even be possible. The commercial haulers and the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas have put together some pretty impressive research charging that there is no technology available or even on the horizon that would enable the city to make money on fart-gas. Pizza Mike, our mayor, said taking time even to look at that research would be what he called a "mañana approach." Hmm.
But at least Pizza Mike was honest enough to tell people what it's really about, sort of but not quite. What the city wants is the extra dumping fees, which they say will come to $15 million a year. Apply the normal 66 percent discount to City Hall truth, and that comes to about $5 million a year.
So why are we so desperate to get $5 million a year in dump fees, even if it means creating a huge pile of trash in the city landfill that can only become a greater and greater public liability unless some genius, child-of-immigrants, high-school-science-fair whiz invents a new technology by which automobiles can be replaced by propeller-directed fart-gas balloons?
Come to the corridor with me. The word whispered on every lip in the milling crowd outside the council chamber is "meet and confer, meet and confer."
What the hell? Meet and confer what?
Aha! Go here and maybe you'll get the picture. Two years ago new state and federal "meet and confer" legislation allowed city fire and police employees to bring the city to the table for new compensation negotiations. In those negotiations, the fire and police unions generously loaned the city $26.2 million for three years in exchange for a little vigorish. They gave up pay and compensation -- let the city take it away from them -- in order to get a better deal later.
Next year the city has to start paying them back. Plus. The hit for next year's budget will be $8.6 million. The hit in 2013 will be $37.9 million. And if certain "revenue triggers" occur, the hit in 2013 will go up another $6.9 million.
Well, that's OK, right, because obviously when the city borrowed all this money they surely put it into conservative investments so they would be able to pay it back when they had to. Right? Oh, puhleeze. You think the city ever does stuff like that?
They spent it. Right away. You know that. That was your "no-tax-hike" budget the city council kept bragging about. It's like, "Hey, we can pay the mortgage just fine. All we have to do is borrow a little more money from Grandma's CD account that she doesn't even remember she has anyway."
Unfortunately for City Hall, the cops and firemen ain't Grandma. They're going to want their money, and they've got it coming, legally, morally and I believe politically. Voters in this city have a history of not wanting to screw their own cops and firepersons.
So that's why you've got all this crazy desperate scratching around for every damn little honey-pot the city manager can scare up in the next year, and to hell with the damn neighborhoods or anybody else who wants to whine about it.
In fact you can't put the blame on the city manager. It's the council. They tell the manager, "Borrow the money from our own employees so we can fake like we've got a conservative budget." Then they say, "Spend the money." When it's pay-up time they tell her, "Find the money." And they tell her, "No new taxes." And finally they tell us, "Ain't we somethin'?"
That's what everybody was talking about out in the hall. People were saying, "Watch out, because this is just the first of it. Don't get yourself between Mary Suhm and a buck on any given Wednesday, because you're going to be a hamburger by the end of the day."
For which she will gladly pay you Friday.