Back in the '70s, when the factory where my father worked shut down, I recall vividly my whole family sitting around the kitchen table in our St. Louis-area home, discussing finances. My father and mother were proud and fiercely independent. They knew that my father, who was dependable and hard-working, would find another job, but they weren't sure how long it might take. For them, welfare was not an option.
So that very night we sat around the dinner table, and together divided all of our family's monthly expenses into two stacks - "wants" and "needs." Bills for electric, telephone, gas, mortgage, car payments, insurance and food went into the "needs" pile. Cable TV, private swimming pool dues, piano lessons, our weekly allowance, movie tickets, dinners at restaurants, vacations and a host of other things went into the "wants" pile. We canceled everything in the wants pile immediately. My mom (who, in our house, took care of the shopping and paid the bills) almost pulled her hair out many times trying to figure out how to pay for all the "needs," but we made it through. Within six months, my Dad had another good job and as our finances improved, we started funding things in our "wants" pile again. It was a great lesson for myself and my siblings.
These days, no one's income is secure. In our house when money gets tight, we still divide up our bills into "wants" and "needs" and make do. In view of our recent vote on the PILOT issue, I'm not sure our City Council understands this principle. We "need" public safety to keep us safe, our street department to keep our streets in good repair, BMU to keep our utilities flowing and City Hall to make sure those objectives are achieved. We "want" the swimming pool, parks and recreation programs, new capital improvements, the Department of Economic Development, the Land Clearance and Reclamation Authority, the leaf pickup program and many other programs, but we can do without them until our budget is healthy again.
During the recession of the past three years, our City Council should have been prioritizing our "needs" and putting our "wants" on the back burner like corporate America and the BMU have been doing. They didn't. Instead, they have been trying to make our revenues expand to fit our budget by tapping into the BMU with a new tax. That tax-and-spend strategy is the same our federal government has followed since Franklin Roosevelt was President. We now where that has gotten us.
Our City Council needs to make some tough decisions and cut back on our "wants" until better economic times return, and they will. Until then, we can't afford to spend ourselves and the BMU into bankruptcy.