I recently came upon a passage in the book Cutting Back City Hall, published in 1980, that almost precisely mirrors my view that an organization like Free Buffalo is needed. Perhaps Robert W. Poole can explain it better than I did. Even the figures he used for a budget are comparable to our $100,000 estimate, though his figures would be even larger adjusted for inflation.


Professional Tax Cutting

by Robert W. Poole, Jr. (page 198)

While a hard-core, grass-roots, activist organization is essential to the creation of a climate for cutting back city hall, there are limits to what can be accomplished by an unpaid, volunteer organization. When local officials either purposely attempt to frustrate efforts toward reform or genuinely lack the imagination to know how to respond, it can be invaluable to draw on the services of a full-time, professional taxpayers' organization.

Although supporting such an organization (which requires a minimum of an executive director / researcher and a secretary) may be beyond the means of the taxpayers of a single town or small city, the taxpayers of an entire county may find it an extremely worthwhile investment.

Let's take as an example a county of just 100,000 people. Assuming the national average of 2.9 persons per household, that's 34,483 households. If just one-third of those households (11,494) contributes $5 a year, that's a $57,471 budget—which can readily support a director ($25,000), secretary ($10,000), rent ($2,400), and leave over $20,000 for literature, public relations efforts, and miscellaneous operating expenses.

There are two principal advantages to a professional taxpayers' group. First, by virtue of having a full-time staff, it can keep on top of what city and county governments in its area are doing. The bureaucrats charged with running the countless local agencies do, after all, work full time, thinking up ways to spend taxpayers' money. When a proposal for cutbacks or other reform measures is made, they typically have access to far more information than do taxpayers about their departments' opera¬tion—information with which to construct arguments for the status quo. Fighting this kind of built-in advantage requires comparable information, and getting it requires experience, skill, tenacity, and, above all, time. The best-intentioned volunteer holding down a regular full-time job is simply no match for a seasoned bureaucrat out to defend his or her empire. Even a retired volunteer is very likely to be outclassed—unless perhaps he or she is an ex-bureaucrat, "born again" as a tax cutter. Knowing what questions to ask and having the time to persist until the necessary information is forthcoming requires a full-time, skilled researcher.

The second advantage of a professional organization is that it is far more likely to put together imaginative analyses and proposals of its own, than to simply react to the excesses of the local bureaucrats. An organization that simply reacts will earn a reputation for negativism (and it may well be deserved). To accomplish more than cutting out flagrant examples of waste or holding down the rate of government growth, a taxpayers' group must be able to take the initiative. It must be able to show, for example, how and why the county government could abolish its data-processing department and turn the function over to a private contractor. To do this convincingly requires studying the county's existing data-processing operations and their costs, obtaining data from potential contractors, putting together success stories from elsewhere, and projecting the costs and savings that should be possible. Depending on the size of the county and its taxpayers' organization, the result of such a study could be a report of from 20 to 150 pages.

But the job does not end with publication of the report. It must be presented to the county legislative body, the county administrator, the affected department, and, of course, the news media, accompanied by a suitable press release. Follow-up action should be pursued so that the plan cannot simply be reviewed, studied, and forgotten. At this point, the grass¬roots groups can get in on the act, lobbying to demand that a proven tax-saving proposal be implemented.

A good example of the kind of professional taxpayers' association we're discussing here—one dedicated to cutting back on government without depriving taxpayers of needed services—is the Contra Costa County Taxpayers Association. In this California county of 600,000 people, it has a staff of two and an annual budget of $90,000. Recently it put together an excellent report on private contracting that explained the advantages of contracting, illustrated its use in four different areas, and recommended specific steps to increase the use of contracting in Contra Costa County.