Monday, June 27, 2005

We're All in This Together - Part I

I'm not sure if this will really become a multipart post, but I suspect it might end up that way, hence the "Part I" label. The decision last week by the Supreme Court regarding the extension of "eminent domain" to be used by local governments is something we all have, unfortunately, have had a part in. Please stick with me on this one, and don't dismiss this discussion too quickly. I dislike the decision, and my father was a land appraiser for the federal government, so I understand the concept. In the early years of my life, much of his work was involved in the very issue, working for the Army Corps of Engineers, and working across the northern mid-West to procure land for the Minute Men silos. That sure seems like a reasonable use of "eminent domain" in the public Constitutional context...for the great good (defense) rather than for the greater dollar in taxes. I first thought it was interesting that the "liberals" on SCOTUS sided with developers, AKA "BIG BUSINESS." Shocking!, I thought....but as the evening wore on, I started to get it. The outcome of developers getting access to just about any piece of property is, as was argued before the Court, to generate a greater tax revenue base than the property currently does. That's the key: Taxes. The liberals "got in bed" with the "BIG BUSINESS" so there would be more taxes put in the hands of the local governments, and therefore more capital to use to, shall I say politely, "purchase voting power." Taxes. The key, the locus of this discussion. Mystery solved as to "WHY?" DANGER! DANGER! Will Robinson! - or What's the possible and not completely out of the question "unintended consequence" of this SCOTUS poor judgment? Hmmm...lemme see...I envision large buildings on nice property that happen to have a "tax exempt" status held by the "owners" (in quotes, for it seems like SCOTUS doesn’t think anyone can own any property). Any type of commercial activity on the same property would automatically yield more tax dollars. Do the (very simple) math.... What sort of places are these? Yep, religious (and that means all of them who have done their paperwork) organizations. But, don't forget, each and every 503(c) organization that has picked up property is in the same boat. While I'm sure the People for the American Way are licking their chops at the prospect of getting a lot of their "competition" wiped out, the American Red Cross, the Cancer Society and so many other organizations of great merit are now subject to the same interpretation. If there is enough differential in taxes to be pulled in, nothing is safe where it stands. Now the part that I think is important. We all had a piece of this. As with any business, if you need more capital, then you have a few ways to get it. One is to cut efficiencies, the other is to go out and get more (increased sales, etc). Our local and federal governments have provided many things to us, and, on "both sides" of the aisle, we benefit and have become comfortable in those things we take for granted. Those things are paid for by taxes. I perceive that nation has become far more self-centered, but still, we are generous, and this has helped drive us asking our governments to do more. We also have great demands placed on our state and local agencies by federal legislation, that directs states to carry out the actual leg work, with these laws basically being unfunded (to the states). Two cases in point are Megan's Law and the other was the Brady Bill. Each has their merit in the eyes of their proponents (but that's not part of the discussion), and each imposed administrative and resource demand, "unplanned" (in the budgetary terminology) at the state and below levels. Funding demands increased, even with the locals getting a say in it. Then we have all those pet projects, usually funded by bond issues, and they end up being white elephants. The aquarium here is not pulling the projected revenues, but it's doors are still open. The local stadium owners got loans from the public pocket at incredibly low rates and with a 99 year term. It's making money, but the lack of the money being paid back for the cost of construction has similar implications. There are many other examples to draw from, and I'm sure you're all aware of similar things where you are. You probably just thought of a few while you read. In all of this, we have failed to exercise our powers to think of the reasonable costs of any benefits/projects when we let them go thru. In many cases, our compassion overruns our thoughtful analysis of what can really happen if we pass "program X?" One of the ones I see coming home to roost one day is one I think the Democrats did an outstanding job of strategic planning to get through: About 5-6 years ago, when the big deal was to hammer the tobacco companies for their purported (and I haven't followed this well enough to know the truth - please forgive me) intentional making smoking products more addictive, the big tobacco guys were being sued by all manner of governments in the feeding frenzy. Congress increased federal taxes on tobacco products. It seemed as though it would be a good method for helping people see the price increase, passed to them, to quit smoking/dipping/etc. At the same time, they designated the increased tax revenue go to fund medical insurance for under-privileged children. This is one of those things that makes sense at one level, and is part of our overflowing compassion. Look at this closely. Congress is trying to bankrupt the evil business that has a product that cause cancer. To do so, they tax it heavier. The adage is: If you want less of something, tax it! Congress, cheered on by many citizens and businesses, commence to try and eradicate the industry. Now, if this happens, the tax money from the increased taxes, and then the money from existing taxes will dry up and go away. OOPS! The tax money goes for a program that provides health care to the needy, but specifically to the children. But, we're trying to get rid of the industry. Our heads begin to explode, as the tax money goes away. The poor children aren't getting the medical we have been providing them (and this will be couched as though this program has been around for centuries, the dirty details above being left out), so we have to take some of the money for the moment, from another program, and then we'll have to find another taxation source to replace the lost revenues. BZ, democrats who planned this, for we'll not let the children, who will have been receiving the benefits from this program for many years now, go without, and it will just be a program that has been around for a long time... The point is not to discuss the rightness or wrongness of these programs being used as examples, but to use the reality of them to show the intricacies of the tax system and how it is manipulated. The other way to keep our governments thinking is to do this: Demand they quit looking for ways to help anyone who "shows up at the door" asking for a hand out. Intelligently decide, given the constraints how much is enough. Keep the bottom line within the positive range by managing the money. We're in this together because we don't seem to get involved enough. Let me say this: Getting involved is not merely reading a few headlines and making a sign, it's thoughtful research on the issues at hand and then working with the appropriate government officials to get the money under control. Once this discipline is in effect, then it will be far less likely that our elected people will be open to hunting up more tax revenues, by taking our property. No matter how “feel good” some “fix” to the issue of the moment seems to be, engage your brain and think how it will affect the community in the long run. Thanks to Mudville Gazette for the open posting!


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