Paying to Parade

Last time you saw a parade, probably there were politicians perched on the back seats of convertibles or marching along, with supporters holding signs identifying them by name and office. If the parade was in Boston, then you can be sure that the grinning politicians paid for their places in the procession. It's a tradition, the Boston Globe reported recently.
by | August 2005
 

Last time you saw a parade, probably there were politicians perched on the back seats of convertibles or marching along, with supporters holding signs identifying them by name and office. If the parade was in Boston, then you can be sure that the grinning politicians paid for their places in the procession. It's a tradition, the Boston Globe reported recently. In a city with a lot of parades, organizers charge politicians to take part. Major parades, such as the Bunker Hill parade in Charlestown, start at $200 and can reach $1,000 for a prime position. But in most parades, the mayor is an exception. He doesn't pay and automatically gets the most treasured spot, at the front. This is an election year, so the tradition is under attack by Mayor Thomas Menino's chief opponent, city council member Maura Hennigan, who says she's "shocked" to learn Menino isn't paying to join parades, as she is. Menino's reply: "It's a grand tradition. I don't make the rules." The mayor quickly added that, while he doesn't pay a marching fee, he often helps parade organizers raise money. Most candidates seem to accept Boston's pay-to-parade system. "You have to march down the street and be seen," one city council member said, adding, "You don't want to be the only one who wasn't there."

BUSTED FLAT IN ROYAL OAK

What would it be like if your local government suddenly went broke? It would be a lot like what's going on in Royal Oak, an affluent suburb of Detroit, where they're thinking about selling city hall. Royal Oak is staring at a $5 million deficit in its $35 million budget. They got into this fix as a result of the usual suspects--out- of-control health care costs, retiree benefits--but there were also some really dumb political decisions along the way, such as not passing along the full cost of water rate hikes to residents. So when the new city manager looked into the government's reserve funds, he didn't find the $4.5 million nest egg that's on the books. He found $1.5 million in cash "and a whopping $3 million IOU from the water fund," as one newspaper described it. The city manager recommended that the government take every dime it could lay its hands on, hike water rates drastically, tack on some additional fees, raise parking rates, sell excess land and cut services. But city commissioners are worried about operating with no financial reserves and about the longer-term financial problems facing their city, so they want to look at every option. One of the ideas on the table is to sell city hall to a developer who would build housing or offices there and lease office space back to the city.

MORE POLICE = LESS CRIME?

This may sound like a dumb question, but if your city could put more police officers on the street, would it mean less crime? Most people would quickly answer yes, but the evidence has been sketchy. Well, thanks to a pair of enterprising academics, there's new data. According to Jonathan M. Klick, who teaches at Florida State, for every dollar cities spend on additional police officers, the cost of crime goes down by $4. What was needed, in order for Klick and his colleague, Alexander Tabarrok of George Mason University, to make the link, was a single city that from time to time puts a lot more cops on the street, so you can correlate the crime rate to the increase in officers. And there's just such a city: Washington, D.C., which has lived through a number of "terror alerts" since 2002. Whenever the terror alert status goes up, the city lengthens the shifts of officers and sends them out on the street. Crime decreases in Washington during the terror alerts, but not all crimes. Murders stayed constant but street crimes (car break-ins, for instance) dropped like a rock.

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