Wichita State News
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Jeremy Hill, director of WSU's CEDBR, says winning an election is one thing, but controlling spending and helping the economy is another.

Elected officials find improving the economy a challenge

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This WSU Newsline Podcast is available at http://www.wichita.edu/newslinepodcast. See the transcript below:

You’re listening to the podcast edition of the Wichita State University audio newsline. Learn more about WSU — the home of Thinkers, Doers, Movers and Shockers — on the Web at wichita.edu.

Winning an election is one thing, controlling spending and helping the economy is another. Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, says elected officials get a dose of reality when they’re in office.

Hill: “A lot of elected officials when they take office, they often want to go and affect the local economy, especially right now when it’s of most importance. However, when they get in they actually will see that they have very little direct control over local spending and local budgets.”

Elected officials who campaigned on change often find that change can be an elusive target.

Hill: “What we find is that local governments are not very nimble, but they’re also not very rash. So what happens when the economy’s growing really fast, governments tend to be much smaller than what citizens want. And when the economy is contracting, they’re much larger than we want, which will put a strain on the local economy.”

So what is an elected official to do? Hill talks about their main options.

Hill: “Elected officials’ greatest power to affect the economy is actually setting the budget, that’s not only looking at taxes and fees for services, but also what kind of spending they want the allocations. The problem is if you’re newly elected, you actually will inherit the budget from the previous year.”

“Elected officials’ second greatest power to affect the economy is by discretionary decision-making. The problem is, a very little of the budget is discretionary. Most of the costs are in things like police services and jails.”

So what kind of an impact can elected officials make initially? According to Hill, maybe not as much as you’d think.

Hill: “Decisions by elected officials have, in most part, a minor effect on the citizens’ wallets immediately. Elected officials can cut their taxes and fees for services, for example, like water and sewer, but those savings take quite a while before citizens actually get the benefit.”

When it comes to tackling the enormous deficits that are affecting our cities, counties, states and this country, some argue that we need politicians who are willing to lose their jobs at the ballot box in order to emphasize what he or she believes is right. At the very least, Hill says elected officials need to be able to make tough decisions.

Hill: “In my opinion, elected officials shouldn’t be there to make friends, but to make tough decisions. To have a bigger impact on the economy, they should make decisions making good appointments to boards and committees, and make sure they get the right department heads and administrators that will make the sound decisions that affect the economy in a positive way.”

And Hill says it’s important for elected officials to listen to the citizens and balance their needs and wants.

Hill: “The most difficult thing for elected officials to do is to actually listen to the citizens and adjust the size of government to meet the needs and wants that they have. In a wealthier community, they may not want a reduction in parks and services, for example. But in a low income area, governments need to adjust, based on what is affordable.”

Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.

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