The City is about to pony up $1 million for a "public service" campaign (starring Ray Benson) to educate us about the new water conservation regulations.
Austin, of course, is running a well-publicized budget deficit. Library hours will be cut. City departments will be left understaffed. Our infrastructure will no doubt be starved of investment for yet another year. (How many feet of sidewalk would $1 million buy?) But the City intends to press ahead with its gold-plated advertising campaign.
Because our city leaders insist on conserving water by fiat rather than price, public service campaigns such as this one are an unfortunate necessity. The city refuses to incentivize us to conserve water through rational pricing, so it has to tell us to conserve water. It will cost $1 million to tell us the first time -- and hundreds of thousands per year more for dedicated staff to tell residents one at a time.
What makes the City's refusal to raise prices so idiotic is that if its advertising campaign succeeds, the City is guaranteed to see further declines in revenue. It's simple: If you sell less water at the same price, you get less money. Spending $1 million on a campaign to slice City revenue is a dumb idea any year, but it's especially dumb when we are staring down a big budget deficit.
On the other hand, if the City adopted a rational pricing system -- if it simply raised prices for large water users -- total revenue would actually rise as the City met its conservation goals. And the City could save $1 million on advertising to boot. These silly top-down regulations regulations will cost the City millions of dollars in the end.
The water restrictions are Leffingwell's baby. They are a terrible, wasteful mistake. Leffingwell should demonstrate some political leadership by pushing for a sensible pricing scheme.