Sunday, January 29, 2006

Local governments and fees

Today's MJS had a solid piece on the increasing role user fees are playing in local government finance. The tin-foil hat club (Grothman, et al) would have you believe this is an abomination:

Grothman called fees "a huge loophole" to the state-mandated spending caps, which keep property tax levy increases to 2%, or the value of new construction.

Well, one man's loophole is another man's lifeline. In this case, fees are a necessity for local governments to continue providing the services that citizens demand, while also living within the state-imposed levy limits.

It's a fact of life that the cost of providing these services is going up, and there's often not much local government can do about it. For instance: citizens expect their garbage to get picked up, their streets to be plowed, and police to patrol their neighborhoods. All these activities require the use of something called "gasoline". This is the stuff that makes the garbage trucks, snowplows and police cars go. As we all know, the price of gas has jumped some 50% over the course of the last year or so. That money has to come from somewhere, and if it can't come from the levy, it either has to come from somewhere else, or the service has to be dropped. It's that simple.

Well, there is one other option. I'll call it the Scott Walker Plan. Under that scenario, you grossly underfund your pension liabilities and make a whole series of similar decisions that put the long-term viability of your municipality at risk, with a hope and a prayer that things won't go to hell until sometime after, say, November, 2006.

Nobody likes paying taxes or fees, but they are a necessary evil in a civil society. If you don't like them, move to Alabama. If you like decent public services and a good quality of life, stay in Wisconsin, and understand that everything has its cost; to pretend otherwise is dishonest.