Saturday, June 2, 2012

Special Taxing Districts and Government Parks

HARBESON: Why add more piggies to the pie?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — The city of New Albany and Floyd County continue to struggle to jointly fund government parks. There have been accusations about previous agreements not honored, vetoes of new agreements, arguments over paying a “fair share” and demands for restitution. The topic is hotter than a shiny slide in the middle of a sunny summer day.

One of the latest news items of note is that the county cannot find a copy of the 2001 agreement. I don’t know if they are implying an agreement may not have actually happened or if they just lost it. I’m glad they are looking though because as they’re flipping through pages and pages of documents, maybe they’ll also find a copy of that other government document no one’s been able to find — the “social contract.”

So in the midst of all the bickering on the political playground, it’s no surprise that the idea of creating a special taxing district for the parks system has come up again.

Certain government officials really like the idea. If the parks department can become a taxing district, this would mean that their budget is no longer subject to the approval of local governments. A taxing district automatically gets a certain percentage of property taxes without having to justify their spending to local elected officials.

If you remember, the idea of creating an additional taxing authority in the county is exactly what State Rep. Ed Clere tried to do during the last legislative session, but it failed to make it to the state Senate.

Clere and others who were pushing the idea said they wanted to “take the politics out of parks.” This is a lame statement considering the very idea of a politician using the state legislature to create a special taxing district in order to force consistent funding for a particular budget item is a political process in itself.

As a matter of fact, this is politics at its worst (and that’s saying a lot) because the creation of a special taxing district moves more power and control another step further away from the people forced to pay the bill.

If local government spending is not susceptible to the budgeting process, if local residents lose the ability to set and change priorities, if flexibility in spending is removed and a government entity is guaranteed a certain percentage of funding, who benefits most?

The people who support creating another taxing authority are quick to say it is “revenue neutral” and will not increase anyone’s taxes. Yes, they say, there will be another item that you’ll see on your property tax bill but your total percentage and tax caps will not change.

In other words, the amount of money you are forced to pour in the government feeding trough is the same, it’s just that there will be an extra pig in there snorting and sucking it up along with all the others.

Interestingly though, no one is really saying much at all in regards to how adding another pig will affect all the other piggies. If money is automatically directed to parks through state legislative action, where will it come from? How will the new combination end up? Something has to give, so who will win and who will lose?

Another reason some people like this idea could be because it’s a good way to get government spending off the front page. And out of people’s minds. It’s hard on those in government when there is open discussion about their central plan for the collective because people can more easily see what’s going on.

But if a budget item is granted taxing authority, it’s easier for those same officials to just sit back and quietly rake in their portion of coerced funds. They can tip-toe around and hardly ever have to engage in debates about the money that’s spent.

When government spending is open to discussion and debate through the budget process, at the very least, people can see that there is no truth to the idea that everyone wants the exact same thing, even in an area as seemingly benign as parks. Sure, the political process can be messy — but what else should you expect when using coercion to get what you want?

Just because government jumps in to a field of human interaction, even if it’s recreation, this does not resolve the inherent differences among individuals and their personal wants and needs — it only forces everyone onto the same merry-go-round — one that you can’t even get off, even if you’re sick of the ride.

— Local resident Debbie Harbeson is definitely sick of the ride.

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