Sharing the sacrifice

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 14, 2006

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the Suffolk budget. We’ve had letters to the editor calling for its acceptance or rejection. Even the big newspaper today came out in favor of something, I read it twice and I think it said while taxpayers certainly deserved a huge tax rate cut based on skyrocketing assessments, they should not receive one so the city can continue to build a new school every year and hire police, firefighters and teachers and pay them more.

While a small government, low tax person by nature (and like I said here recently, that’s probably a fantasy world position to take anymore), I’m withholding comment on the budget and tax rate, at least until I see it. As far as I know, nothing has been proposed.

But once it is proposed, what I will look for is the proposed spending increase in relation to Suffolk’s rate of population growth. I don’t know if that’s a valid gauge, but at least it’s something to which I can relate.

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The argument has always been put forth, at least in the six years I’ve been here, that Suffolk needs to maintain its tax rate because it’s a growing city. The money is needed to “avoid the mistakes of our neighbors” and continue to pay for the aforementioned amenities, plus others.

I’ve generally been supportive of that in the past because I long ago resigned myself to the fact that WE ARE GOING TO PAY. When federal and state governments cut taxes its entirely illusory. They are not really “cutting” taxes, merely shifting them. All they end up doing is reducing what they give to local governments who have to turn around raise the money. I’m sure if there were neighborhood governments, the city and county governments would simply pass that buck on down to them, but over on Market Street is where the buck stops.

Be that as it may, I’m starting to question the argument. From people I’ve talked to, Suffolk’s rate of population growth is expected to continue for the next 35 to 50 years. Are we to expect 10 to 25 percent real estate tax increases annually into the next generation? Tony Soprano doesn’t charge that many points.

And if the argument is valid now that we have to maintain the tax rate to keep up with the growth, then will it be any less valid 10 years, 20 years down the road? Of course not.

Where does it end?

The answer is that it doesn’t. As long as voters continue to be suckered in by anti-tax demagogues (who typically stand for little else except enriching their corporate campaign contributors) on the state and national level, they are going to have to cough up more money locally.

Our only recourse is to elect local representatives who demand that what is spent locally is essential to improving the quality of life and that anything and everything that does not is trimmed.

This means looking at the details, line by line, and not just the “big picture.” Yes, we want and need better schools and better fire and police protection and we have to be willing to pay for it. But by the same token, we should expect those who work for us to reduce spending wherever and whenever possible. The sacrifice should be shared. We all have to do our part.