Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Focusing on the wrong issue

Years ago, I was a reporter for a local newspaper that had crusaded to bring about consolidation of the city and county governments.
Assigned to cover local government, I thought the paper was obligated to follow up that crusade with stories about how consolidation was working. Therefore, I often wrote about the city budget.
But, I reasoned, homeowners care more about their total costs than just taxes. And various cities provide services that elsewhere are provided by the private sector, making true comparisons difficult unless they are included.
So annually I would do a comparison of typical costs to homeowners in Jacksonville and other cities, including the costs of electricity, water and sewer and garbage collection.
Consolidated Jacksonville usually fared well in such comparisons, as it did in comparisons I did of the local tax rate over time, factoring in population growth and inflation.
City officials picked up the idea and now use both comparisons in the annual city budget.
But the current mayor has a strange take on the numbers. Like liberal politicians and addled editorial writers at liberal papers, he uses the argument that Jacksonville residents pay too little taxes.
He certainly has done his part by raising taxes but the idea is flawed.
Should Wal-mart run ads saying "Don't shop here! Our prices are too low!"
Public schoolteacher union bosses use similar arguments. We need to spend more money on schools because other states do.
Most consumers know that if you are getting the same or better product at lower cost, you are better off because you are getting more value. Politicians can't seem to grasp this concept.
What taxpayers should focus on is the value of local government. They should not be fretting about the fact that they may be getting a better deal than taxpayers in other cities.

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