Power to the people by way of local government and taxing decisions…

They’re laying off or cutting back on the positions for firemen, policemen, and teachers in jurisdictions all over the United States. Cities and states are facing mounting budget deficits.

The conundrum or dilemma is that people want services (although they may not agree with each other at what level) but they do not want their taxes raised (too much waste already, they say).

Add to this all, the Great Recession, the great economic crisis of our time, and there almost seems to be no resolution.

But as to the Great Recession, that will probably cure itself to a degree — the normal business cycle, we’re so far down the only way to go is up, and so on.

As to how to pay for public services, that is another problem.

Now the libertarians have an answer. You pay for everything yourself and if you can’t afford it, tough. But even ultra conservatives have a hard time with that one when it comes right down to it. As I have always understood it, true libertarians don’t even believe in publicly funded police and fire departments.

In some rural areas already people do and have for years had to pay a direct tax or fee for fire protection (not in the state of California where I live, though, as far as I know — I could be wrong on that).

Libertarians don’t see much benefit to police because as they see it, police spend most of their time showing up to crime scenes after the fact. They would rather pay for their own security protection or their own gun, I suppose.

But what is on my mind is not libertarian ideology — I just got off track a little.

My idea is that it seems strange to me when people complain, for instance, that their schools are laying off teachers because of a lack of funding. I wonder if it ever occurred to them that they themselves, the local citizens, could do something. They could raise their own taxes and earmark them for their schools.

However, raising taxes is about the most politically unpopular thing to do. No one but no one wants to pay higher taxes, well except maybe Bill Clinton or Warren Buffet, but they don’t count.

And certainly I personally am no proponent of higher taxes on anything.

But the only way to get things is to pay for them (it’s just a matter of who pays).

Once upon a time, local citizens paid for their own schools through property taxes (and some of the revenue still comes from that source). But over the years schools got bigger and the education system got a lot more complex. In addition, it was noticed that there was an inequity between areas where people had relatively high incomes and those areas that were impoverished. Equal access to education was being denied to students who through not fault of their own lived in poor areas. And that‘s when the state and federal governments stepped in.

And this funding from higher levels of government who have a larger source from which to draw tax revenue and who oversee the interests of whole states and all of the United States applied to a lot more things than schools.

That certainly was a boon to local jurisdictions — more money. But it came with a price. That price was loss of control. If you get money from far away, the far away bureaucracy wants to have control over how that money is spent, and for good reason — it’s the prudent way of acting with the taxpayers’ money.

And there is the problem of practical budgeting and making those tough decisions on what services are needed and at what level and whether the revenue can be raised to sustain it all. When the money comes from elsewhere both bad decisions are made and sometimes no decisions are made because local jurisdictions may not have a choice because of state and federal regulations.

A closely related aspect of what I have been referring to, revenue sharing (money from the federal government distributed to the states and to smaller local jurisdictions and from the states on down likewise), is unfunded state and federal mandates.

These usually come about when someone decides “there oughta be a law”.  Legislators wanting to garner votes for their next re-election fall all over themselves to pass laws, and wouldn’t you know it? Those laws usually result in some type of new agency or expanded role for an existing agency and reams of paperwork for local entities to keep track of and new mandates from on high, such as how many jailers there must be to staff the county jail or how many teachers there must be in relationship to the number of students, and so on.

If the funding was derived closer to where the service was provided and if local jurisdictions had more control, sensible and prudent decisions could be made.

But that is not how it goes and any move toward pay for what you want directly is seen as too libertarian and impractical.

I don’t know how our new federal health care law fits into all of this, and I am certainly a proponent of some type of universal health care, that is universal access, so even people who actually can’t afford all the medical costs do not have to suffer, but I note the news that Canada with its vaunted universal or government-run system is facing a funding crisis. 

As we in the U.S. expand our social safety net for health, will we face a funding crisis? Republicans and others who resisted and still resist the new health care law will answer sarcastically: DUH, YA THINK?

Personally, I think there are some things that have to be funded at the federal level (and sometimes the state level) because both everyone needs them and only the higher levels of government with their broader tax base have the ability to pay for them.

But we really need to reassess the roles of the different levels of government and we really need to get more power back to local government — power to the people, if you will.

But along with that power should come a new sense of fiscal responsibility and a willingness to truly make tough decisions and ride herd on waste in government, the too convenient excuse those who would refuse to raise taxes even if clearly needed , as in “there’s too much waste in government”.


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