Strapped local gov’t? Try setting priorities
Did you hear them, the howls of pain from local officials on announcement that the Pence administration would phase out their golden goose, the business personal property tax? The governor thinks it will level the playing field, attract investment, create jobs.
Please know the anguish is genuine. The amount of revenue to be lost — about $1 billion a year statewide — cannot be finessed. County and city officeholders may have to set priorities; they may have to decide what local government should and should not be doing and then explain it to a constituency.
If you assume your councilman is doing that already, you might double-check. In my county, public officials have reduced responsibility to a scheme: 1) a budget crisis is spotted on the horizon; 2) the political and fiscal costs are carefully tallied; 3) everybody sits tight until the only option left is to raise taxes.
Legislators, alas, are in on it. Even the Republicans operate on a “revenue neutral” basis, meaning government must be compensated for any lost revenue. Before the governor could make his announcement, Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, the chairman of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, was warning that “absent finding a replacement revenue source that mitigates the impact [of cutting the business personal property tax], we have to be cautious.”
Instead of guarding his revenue stream, Mr. Hershman might be introducing “core functions” legislation. Such proposals are being considered in several states as a way to organize the discussion around the question of “what, exactly, is the job of local government?”
Oregon state Rep. Kim Thatcher began a campaign to identify core functions with nothing more than loose bipartisan agreement that government “can’t and shouldn’t do everything.”
“Our system of budgeting wasn’t working,” she told the American Legislative Exchange Council. “Instead of agencies pestering lawmakers for more and more money, we first needed to establish what the core functions of government were and then decide how to divvy up the available funds.”