Monday, April 15, 2013

Week of 04/15/2013

Where’s the Tea Party for Small Government?
– by David Matthews 2

I was reading the local Georgia paper recently when I noticed something strange was missing.

Local communities were talking about their tax revenues and how city and county officials say they have no choice but to raise local taxes and utilities to make up for the expected loss in revenue due to the extended Great Recession.  The newspaper articles each reported on these things as though they were foregone conclusions that tax rates and utility costs were going to go up to compensate for the Great Recession. 

And that is pretty much what will probably happen.  Local communities will jack up taxes and utilities to make up for the revenue they feel they need to keep the area going.  There’s very little discussion about it, there’s virtually no debate as to whether or not the community can afford it.  They announce it and then it happens.

As I read the latest announcement of a property tax millage hike, I realized that there was something important missing from this regular “foregone conclusion”.  Or, at least they presume themselves to be so important when it comes to this subject.

Where’s the so-called “Tea Party” crowd?

I’ve been watching the local government discussions in the greater Atlanta area, and in pretty much every local decision to raise property taxes and utilities has gone on without so much as a word from the so-called “Tea Party” crowd in protest.  No rallies, no marches, no pushes to have local officials removed from office, no scathing letters to the editors.  It’s like the “Tea Party” is operating in a totally different universe from small-town America.

And it’s funny too because, from what I understand, many of the self-professed “Taxed Enough Already” folks are small-town small-community homeowners.  These are people that have to see their tax bills go up and up, so you would think that they should be the first to start complaining about a bill that they know they have to pay.

So… why are they so silent when it comes to local taxes?

Granted, the voters here in Georgia recently rejected a Special Local Option Sales Tax, which was the first in a long time, but that one was for a special project that got plenty of negative feedback from communities in general.  An aberration when compared to the dozens of taxes that get passed and renewed without so much as a word in edgewise.

And, again, not a peep from the “No New Taxes” crowd!

That should sound off alarm bells given how the so-called “Tea Party” crowd have this thing about taxes and how we all are supposedly “taxed too much” and what they define as a “tax increase”.  They’re normally throwing on their tinfoil tri-fold hats and making picket signs and slapping on cheap bumper stickers in protest of anything that raises taxes.  They talk of needing to wage a new American Revolution or a new Civil War when a tax break is scheduled to expire or when someone suggests cutting a tax loophole.  They supposedly condemn any – and I mean “any” – attempt to raise taxes as a matter of principle… but not apparently for local taxes.

So why aren’t they up-at-arms about what’s going on in their own backyards?  Why aren’t they as fixated about taxes with local government as they are with the federal government?

Are they ignorant of their own local burdens?  I really don’t think that’s the case.  Property tax assessments and bills are sent out in their own individual notices, and, again, the local newspapers are quick to announce when a change in those tax bills are going to be made, with plenty of time before it becomes reality for people to voice their objections, so it’s not really a surprise.

Someone suggested to me that the local governments have a certain measure of transparency that the federal government doesn’t.  People can supposedly see the “need” for those tax increases and accept them.  I have to disagree with that rationalization for two reasons.  First, because objecting to taxes as a “matter of principle” precludes any exception, even those based on necessity.  Second, because I have seen local community leaders base their budgets on tax revenue that did not exist and dedicate an ever-expanding amount of local revenue to certain divisions like law enforcement without proving necessity.  Besides, it should be easier for so-called anti-tax people to complain about local taxes because of that supposed transparency.  Just because Small Government is announcing its intentions doesn’t automatically make it right.

Another suggested given to me is that the so-called “Tea Party” crowd is really a national party and they do best on a national stage instead of smaller battlegrounds.  This rationalization actually comes closer to what I suspect is the truth, but it doesn’t really justify their political hypocrisy.

Bible-thumping freedom-hating groups also claim to be national groups, and yet they seem to have no problems whatsoever sticking their noses in local matters.  If there’s a local strip club or bookstore they want shut down, they have no problem mobilizing people to City Hall to have their will imposed on us.  If they feel some town is lacking a Ten Commandments display in local government, they have no problem mobilizing people and resources to make sure that “their will be done”.

If the freedom-hating bible-thumpers can do that, why can’t the so-called “Tea Party” crowd?  After all, aren’t they supposed to be this huge leviathan of voter outrage?  Aren’t they supposed to be the literal embodiment of Richard Nixon’s fictional “silent majority” ready to rise up and take back control of government?  Any group that is supposedly that large should have no problems whatsoever with a government of any size.

Or maybe the supposed “Tea Party” crowd is not really as large as they claim to be?  Maybe they’re not the fictional “silent majority” that they’ve propped themselves up as.  Maybe the reason behind their fixation on national taxes instead of local ones has less to do with some sense of “anti-tax principle” and more to do with the dysfunction of the federal government and the interests of the K-Street backers?  Maybe the reason why they’re silent about Main Street and Your Street is because they’re only concerned with Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Let’s get brutally honest here… if the so-called “Tea Party” crowd is supposedly so interested in taxes, then they need to do far more than just complain about federal taxes.  They need to be consistent with their philosophy and concentrate just as hard on the burdens imposed by state and local government. 

For every announced millage rate or tax rate hike, for every added fee, for every increase in government-run utilities, there should be protests and picket signs and people marching to City Hall screaming “Hell No!”  The message should be resonating from this so-called “not-so-silent majority” loud-and-clear that the mayor or city councilman or county commissioner or state representative that proposes these things does so at the cost of their career.  They should treat state and local politicians just like they would their federal counterparts. 

Indeed, many a federal politician came from the state and local levels.  This is where they develop that pompous belief that they are above accountability.  This is where they learn how to play the system like a rigged game and get away with it as long as they keep certain special interest groups appeased.  Any true grass-roots political movement knows this.

So again, I ask, where is the so-called “Tea Party” crowd when it comes to local taxes and local government-run burdens?  Why do they appear to be so silent on these matters?  Are they silent because they don’t care?  Or are they silent because they’re not what they appear to be?

Sure it’s easier to focus on one body of government than to spread one’s efforts out through fifty states and then through hundreds and thousands of individual counties, cities, towns, and communities, but that is the burden one faces when they claim to be a huge “national movement”, never mind making any kind of broad political statement like opposing all taxes and claim it be “on principle”.  The burden is on you and your members to actually live up to that supposed “principle”, and not just when it is “convenient”.

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