More toys for the police
In Austin, the police and fire departments consume the majority of general revenue. See this report: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/budget/09-10/downloads/august2010.pdf  This is typical of most cities.
And typical of most cities, the city council is demotivated from telling the emergency services managers, "NO!" It is political suicide to tell the police chief that he can't have a new toy that will shave a few seconds off of emergency response time. The public expects emergency services to show up within 10 minutes. The Austin Police show up - on average - within 8 minutes http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/budget/eperf/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.PerfMeasure&DEPT_CD=POLIC&MEASURE_ID=6691&GP_CD=21AA&DIV_CD=5OPS 
But I think we are paying too high a price for this service - in dollars and in privacy.
If the police and emergency response teams are seldom told, "NO!" then their power and their reach keeps expanding. And maybe they lose site of the bigger picture because they are so focused on catching the bad guy?
Last week I heard a local radio program discussing the police department's purchase of thermal imaging scanners. See this site for the hype http://www.policeone.com/police-technology/thermal-imaging/  This allows the police to see if anyone is inside a building without having to go in the buillding. This sounds really great when you apply it to a crack house. But I am deeply disturbed that the police can also use it to scan MY house. The police officer on the program said the scanner was a useful tool for fighting crime and that you don't have to worry if you aren't doing anything wrong.
OK, I'm not doing anything wrong - but I don't want someone to watch me take a shower. My house and my husband's car are already on Google Maps. Is my home not my castle? Do I have NO PRIVACY AT ALL?
I am reminded of "Logan's Run" here... remember that movie where everyone was bumped off a 35 for the good of the society? It was a cheesy movie, yes. But it makes an interesting point about government and freedom.
I am not the first or last person to have this concern. http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2009/0503/governments-role-in-economy-getting-too-big  or http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2009/09/most-americans-think-government-is-too-big-and-does-too-much.html  And the farewell speech by President Eisenhower is interesting as he says 'balance' about 10 times! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnaM8TqAzzo 
But, back to dollars, where most accountants are more comfortable. My girlfriend frequently travels to rural China. Know what happens when someone dies in China? The government picks them up at their house a few days later. Not within 8 minutes. We Americans are spoiled and we are paying for it BIG time.
And the Tea Partiers like to throw around the term "socialism" like it is a disease. How did we decide to pay as a community for fire and police protection? Because the insurance that each individual home purchased to save their homes fire didn't protect them when their neighbors home caught on fire. A blazing, spreading fire does not read plaques on the door. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_insurance_marks  So society decided everyone should be covered. Decided that everyone should attend school. That everyone should be covered for basic expenses and healthcare in their old age. Threaten to take Social Security and Medicaid from a Tea Partier and watch their face drop. So, let's not all suffer under the illusion that we are a purely capitalist society, OK? We are not entirely free market because the free market is full of greedy bastards who will steal you blind unless someone stops them.
But, we are precariously close to loosing our balance between individual freedom and government intervention? Or have we already? Yes, it is good for government to perform some functions. But when is it too much?
I heard the City Manager of Austin on the radio saying that the city budget was on target and that citizens of Austin need only pay another $30 a month to live here and support a bigger and better equiped police force. I don't want a bigger, better equiped police force! I do not dread my fellow man or think they are out to get me. (It helps to not watch sensationalized TV news every day - by the way) I am more afraid of a government run amuck than I am of being burgled or murdered.
I don't have real figures on this - so if you do, I'd love to have them. But in Texas, the majority of my taxes are spent by the state and local governments. My property tax gets spent locally. My federal taxes go to Washington and a portion of them are filtered back down for use by the state. National news focuses on the federal government - but that is not the only place where crazy, wasteful, unwise choices are being made.
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin