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Budgeting a Good Hard Look at Paris

My “little birdie” at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), privileged me with a copy of the city’s budget for 2007. He tells me that only a few have access to this information and today, I share it with you. (I don’t believe he will mind.)

It opens with a message I find very “French” — “Solidarité.”

You know the French motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” (“Liberty, equality, fraternity”)? This was the slogan of the French Revolution, with one small idea added at the time: Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort! (Freedom, equality, brotherhood, or death!). Today, I propose that the slogan be changed to “Liberté, égalité, fraternité and solidarité.”

“Paris, ville solidaire” is item number one of the budget, with a 70% increase between 2000 and 2007 devoted to this cause — to level out the vast differences between the rich and poor, to ensure that EVERYONE (including the aged, the handicapped, the blind, etc.) has proper housing and environment, adequate health care and access to emergency care. It further describes the need to abolish discrimination on every level including anti-semitism, racism, homophobia and efforts to maintain the memory of the deportation of the Jews during World War II…all described in great detail.

Part II prepares us for Paris’ future. The budget will allow for new openings in day-care centers and nurseries, particularly in the poorer districts. New schools will be built and existing schools will be upgraded. Unemployment will be addressed by a variety of different solutions to vitalize the economy, make job hunting and finding easier, enabling the unemployed with more skills, encouraging new business start-ups, promoting tourism, favoring attendance of universities, providing public WiFi/Internet access…and there is that word again — “action international solidaire”…meaning a solidarity with other great cities of the world.

Part III is about improving the city politically and environmentally. One million euros will be devoted to the “Conseils de Quartier” program which enables the residents to have more of a voice, regardless of their citizenship status. New associations will be encouraged to fortify and build the communities, including more collective efforts with the suburbs and Ile-de-France.

Paris will undergo major renovation in areas such as Les Halles, Des Batignolles and reducing the nuisances of the noisy and polluted “Périphérique” (outer ring road). More public transportation will be added including the new Tramway service, new bus lines, prolonging the hours of service of the Métro and adding more features to accommodate the handicapped. Biking will be encouraged and more parking places will be added. Many more taxi licenses will be offered and new taxi lanes built. Car parking costs for residents and local merchants will be reduced. Twenty-one-hundred new posts for security officers will be created and the fire department will undergo modernization.

More hectares of land will be devoted to parks and green space. Trees are being planted, playgrounds added, pigeon coops installed to control their proliferation. Noise level is of concern along with the quality of the water and keeping the city streets clean of debris and animal waste.

Culture is not forgotten as museums will be renovated, reopened, rejuvenated and big cultural projects will be

funded. The young will be culturally educated and creativity will be encouraged. New sports facilities will be built, swimming pools opened, tennis courts and stadiums are planned for the future.

Part IV is what we’ve all been waiting for…to stabilize fiscal taxes so that our personal tax investment is not only prudent, but profitable. Taxes will not increase in 2007, but finding ways to generate more tax and spending it in more meaningful ways counts.

Sure, we pay a lot of tax living in France. Everything we purchase has 19.6% Value Added Tax included in the price, about 10% more than the U.S. sales tax. Employers pay about 50% of their employees’ salaries to cover their social security benefits (health care, retirement, unemployment benefits). Employees pay about 40% of their earnings to the French government.

But…health care is virtually free and guaranteed for all. Education through university is free of charge (and the quality is top notch!). Annual property taxes are as low as to be less than .001% (compared to 1% to 3.5% in the U.S.). Public transportation service is excellent and inexpensive. Art and culture surrounds us on a daily bases and is available to all, free of charge.

So, while we’re complaining about the high taxes and the complex bureaucratic systems that frustrate our American default mode for simplicity and ease of movement, we have to stop and take a good hard look at all that this social democracy has to offer.

That’s what the city budget did for me today…make me stop and take a good hard look.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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