Are conservative cities better?

While it’s willing to make investments, Mesa is also lean in ways that more bloated liberal cities can’t boast. Take the City Council. Despite Mesa’s hefty population, council members are part-timers who have day jobs in fields from education to copper mining. City leaders also pay themselves considerably less than those in other cities do. Mesa City Council members make only $33,000 a year, and the mayor is paid only $73,000. (And those salaries represent the fruits of a big raise: Before last year, city councilmembers made less than $20,000 a year and the mayor earned only $36,000.) By contrast, as of 2012, in similarly sized Fresno, the mayor made $126,000; city council members brought home nearly $65,000. In neighboring Phoenix, meanwhile, the mayor makes $88,000 and city councilmen earn more than $61,000.

In fact, Mesa is lean all around. The entire municipal workforce stands at only about 3,200 people, down from approximately 3,600 before the recession, and only the firefighters and police officers are unionized. (The school district is separate from the city.) The city doesn’t hand out the fat union contracts that make infrastructure projects in blue states so outlandishly expensive (and thereby reduce support for infrastructure spending, period). During the Great Recession, when area construction companies were reeling and desperate for business after housing starts had fallen off a cliff, the city inked a number of extremely cost-efficient deals—literally building three firehouses for the price of four…

As a result of its efficient government, Mesa is not only able to invest in infrastructure, but also has the distinction of being the only municipality in the area with no primary property tax—any property taxes are tied to specific bond issuances. Mesa instead relies heavily on a 1.75 percent consumption tax on everything purchased in the city—your average Cato Institute economist’s dream—to fund its everyday operations.