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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Local governments can economize too (06/05/2011)
By John Edstrom

The May economic numbers are in and they are uniformly doleful. Unemployment has crept back up to 9.1%, and a meager 45,000 jobs added to the economy is the lowest total in eight months, far fewer than the 220,000 average the last three. Housing prices continue to slide. And while there are complicating factors such as expensive gas and the Japanese natural disasters, it should be painfully clear by now that the government’s spending of money it doesn’t have is not a stimulus, but a drag on the economy. It bears repeating that the nearly trillion dollar stimulus package was touted by the Obamanites as necessary to keep the unemployment rate under 8%. Instead, it promptly zoomed to nearly 10% and is still over 9.

The national picture reflects useful light on the so-called budget impasse in St. Paul which, rightly viewed, is the refusal of Governor Mark Dayton to allow the government to operate if he isn’t granted more than a 10% increase over the next biennium. Less than that he terms “barbaric.” He is demanding a 19% increase, which could be funded by raising Minnesota’s top income tax bracket to the second highest in the nation. He apparently is not mathematician enough to calculate that such increases will eventually devour the entire private sector, but does seem to be inkling that the Republicans should play nice and split the difference with him. Their position is that they were elected with a clear mandate to force government spending back within the limits of its income, and therefore will not raise taxes one jot, nor even a tittle. In its Friday edition the Minneapolis Tribune, always a reliable advocate of a larger and more expensive government, calls the Republican stance disingenuous, since “experts” claim their mere 10% increase will result in a $500 million property tax increase over two years. Local governments may well increase property taxes, but there is no evidence from either experts or yahoos, for that matter, to indicate that cities and counties can not do some economizing as well as the state. One of the salutary benefits of getting through this recession, I think, would be a cessation of the suspect practice of state government glomming local taxes, and then sending some of them back home after the proverbial expensive night out in the big city. It is always easier to retain some control over the getting and spending of tax dollars when the government pork grinder is set up closer to home. Here in Winona over the last few years, for instance, we have seen county employees squirrel money aside, through budget sleight-of-hand, for a building never authorized by county government. The city, meanwhile, spent huge sums on sewer and water service to developments far from the city limits which have paid nearly nothing back. The benefits of these “investments” remain nebulous, and accrue to unknown persons. I maintain that it will be much easier to restrain waste of this nature in our own backyards, rather than St. Paul, where a different language seems to be spoken by mostly foreigners.

Just in time, a manifesto entitled “Q. What does greater transparency in government spending have to do with your property taxes? A. Everything!” has been published by a collaboration between the Minnesota Taxpayers Association and NAIOP Minnesota. It purports to help local citizens decipher the costs and spending decisions of their local governments and can be accessed at opengovernment.com.



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