All Commentary
Monday, September 1, 1980

Book Review: Cutting Back City Hall by Robert W. Poole, Jr.

(Universe Books, 381 Park Ave. So., New York, N.Y. 10016) • 224 pages • $12.50 cloth

Americans have grown used to thinking that the quality of local services rises and falls with tax rates. Thus, anyone proposing a tax cut is immediately accused of wanting to reduce already inadequate services.

This, Robert Poole shows, need not be the case. Local taxes can be cut while services are maintained—if not vastly improved!

Take the example of mass transit. Any talk of a tax cut is immediately met with threats of fare hikes and reduced schedules. But there is no reason why mass transit should be a city-run monopoly. As Poole shows with actual cases, private buses, jitneys, gypsy cabs, shared-ride cabs, car pools and van pools provide better, cheaper, and more flexible service than tax-subsidized mass transit systems. All that is needed to turn them loose is a repeal of government regulations.

The same is true for garbage collection. Cut taxes, we are threatened, and garbage will pile up. But Poole cites numerous examples of private firms that put the government-run systems to shame. And at a profit! Private refuse Collectors have pioneered in the profit able extraction of energy, usable metals and glass from garbage.

Poole also considers police and fire protection, criminal justice, ambulance service, recreational services, health care, zoning, public works, city management, and schools. In every field he finds examples of private contracting, user fees, and modern management techniques that are improving local services while cutting costs.

Cutting Back City Hall is a valuable handbook for those who seek better local services with reduced taxes. Especially useful is a listing of companies (including consultants) that offer services to local governments on a contractual basis.