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American City Budgets are Out of Control


It’s no secret that city budgets in America are bloated. But just how out of control are they? And what can be done to get them back under control? Let’s take a look.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The Problem with Big City Budgets

Big city budgets are a problem for a number of reasons.

See also: RIOC Budget for 2023-24 Hides Huge Losses at the Tram

First, they’re often excessive. This is particularly true in cases where the city is facing financial difficulties. And excessive spending is probably how they got there.

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Second, big budgets tend to be inflexible, meaning that the city has less ability to respond to changes in circumstances. The inflexibility results from historical consensus building and compromise that leads to meandering purpose.

The city forgets that it’s a public service, not a self-serving entity committed to its own interests and survival.

Finally, big budgets can be difficult to monitor and account for, which can lead to waste and abuse. Like, nobody knows who’s doing what or why? Complexity is self-replicating.

So What Can Be Done?

Fortunately, there are a number of things that can be done to bring city budgets back under control. One is to increase transparency and accountability.

Posting budget information online or holding public hearings on the budget is a good start. Another is giving the people a say in spending. Binding referendums or citizen-led initiatives work wonders.

Finally, cities can adopt spending limits or salary caps for city employees and trim employee counts. Both contribute mightily to bloated budgets without necessarily adding much value.


City budgets in America are out of control. But there is hope. By increasing transparency and accountability, giving the people a say in how the money is spent, and adopting spending limits or salary caps for city employees, we can begin to get city budgets back under control.

But commitment from public officials is mandatory. Supporting machine politicians with promises they will never keep solves nothing.

Fresh blood needs to find its way in without completely disabling the government. Some things do work and should be a starting point for change.

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