We sent a Republican super-majority to the New Hampshire State House to deal with the profligate spending and incompetent accounting of the Democrats. We can all disagree on the specifics of the outcome but one fact is clear–they did what we sent them there to do. State government is no longer growing in excess of our ability to pay for it. Spending is in line with revenues. Real cuts have been enacted to state government. No more Left wing lead Midnight tax and fee jamborees, searching the Granite couch cushions for new revenues to replace the “missing” ones. Frugality is more the order of the day. Without Democrats at the levers, the oppressive power of the purse has stopped accumulating in the State Capitol.
And if you had not noticed, the progressives in both parties are very unhappy about that.
You see, Democrats and Progressive Republicans like deciding things for the counties and towns. Their past policies have emulated that goal. Money goes to Concord first–that is their rule. From there they then decide who is worthy of handouts from on high. To them, state government should decide everyone’s spending priorities. And if you disagree, go ahead and drive your ass up (or down) to Concord, and stand in line to beg or plead your case. It is their entire motivation for a sales or income tax. Unaccountable streams of revenue in the hands of Concord politicians, who must be courted for favors.
And that is where we were heading under Democrat rule. They were trying to spend us into a broad based tax, But in November of 2010 New Hampshire said go to hell.
The result from that election has been, and should continue to be, reducing the money (and power) that runs through Concord. Speaker O’Brien and the GOP leadership seem committed to that goal. It is an ongoing shift of fiscal responsibility from the state to the local level. One with a predictable side effect. It could expose the real cost of local government.
Less meddling from Concord would necessarily mean more meddling by local government. Put another way, and in relation to revenues, as the state tries to back off and return local control, your local taxes could go up as a result.
The left has pounced on this reality as their chief argument against what the GOP majority did by cutting the budget in Concord. Republicans, they say, are cramming costs down on the towns. If we ignore the fact that this rhetoric comes from the very same people who ballooned the cost of state government while still cramming costs down on the towns, what they are saying is still not technically correct. The costs were already there, but someone else was paying for them. Cramming costs would be adding new ones, new unfunded mandates, this is more like a child leaving home and discovering a need to pay for things they have always had, but for which their parents bore the cost. To maintain a similar standard of living requires more out of their own pocket because no one else is paying their way.
This is not cost cramming, it’s called liberty and it is the price of local control.
Those costs were always there but someone who does not live or work in your town was paying that part of your tax rate for you. Whether or not it stays that way is entirely up to you. You could play the victim–that is what the left wants you to do; to beg for Concord to collect the money for you. Act like your town or city is entitled to it. Make someone else pay for the towns stuff. Or you could start looking at what the real priorities for local government are given the real costs associated with it. (Not that you never did that before. You just have to do more of it now.)
If Concord is backing off are there state laws in place hampering our ability to better manage our own costs and revenues? What agreements do we need to revisit? Given our new responsibilities how many unfunded mandates (state or even Federal) are weighing in on our budget, and how do we negotiate our way out of or around them? How can we further optimize local property value, or develop retail space to broaden the tax base and add more local revenue–and does the state make this harder than it should? Is now the time to get public sector benefits and pensions in line with the private sector in our town? Do we need to outsource some things to private contractors or to cut payrolls or pension costs, and if we want to do that do we need to change the town charter? What more should the state do or not do to help us reap more benefit from our own local development? If the state was not there to give you any money, or didn’t try to get in your way, what would you do differently? How would we pay for local government?
The alternative is to move back home with Mom an Dad in Concord and let them make more (or all) the decisions.
That is the goal of the progressive Republicans and the Democrats. They prefer to get the money and decision making as far away from you as possible. To take away local control. The harder it is for you to act upon decisions and decision makers the better. Sequestered away in the corners of power, connected insiders and aggressive lobbyists replace taxpayers as arbiters of all economic priorities. And while no one will openly admit to liking that arrangement in those terms, the same progressives who are now crying foul about cramming costs down on the towns, are not at all interested in how much you have to pay. If they cared about that they never would have blown out the budget doors and out-spent themselves year after year when they were in charge. They never would have tried to pile up regulations that add costs to local government. They never would have added scores of new taxes and fees. Those are all costs born by the same taxpayers and residents, with the added cost of collecting and tracking them. It is money removed from the town to some other location. So the Democrats were not just cramming down costs on the towns they were cramming a swelling and hungry bureaucracy down on top of that. So do not believe the progressives in either party when they pretend to care about cost shifting. They don’t give a damn how much your local taxes are. All they care about is how to hide that revenue and how to get more of it.
The new idea is the old idea–to engage in more local control not less. That means local elected leaders get more authority but will also have to explain why we still need that revenue or figure out a way to cut costs. Managing more of your own finances is the price for more liberty. Don’t blame Republicans for revealing that truth. Admit to yourself that you either have an obligation to act to affect the outcome, or you have to shut the hell up and just take what you are given. (The so-called ‘happy medium’ is just a step toward more state control not less.) You either make more hard choices in your town halls and meeting rooms, engage your local officials, find new ways to pay for the local services you feel you need, or you streamline and cut–and yes, that includes public pensions my establishment friends. The alternative is to keep paying more while giving up more authority and control to professional politicians and lobbyists in the state capitol.
Just remember this; the best managed governments keep their money at the lowest common public denominator, where the people can see it being wasted. All politics are not local when local money runs through someone elses hands first. And when any governments get bigger, individuals get smaller. Towns are no different.