More on the Taxpayer Protection Initiative

I’m still working on the next blog post in my Howard County in the 21st century series. In the meantime I thought I’d take a break and revisit the proposed Taxpayer Protection Initiative to require a supermajority vote for the Howard County council to raise taxes.

First, noted without comment, from a blog post by Wordbones about his attending a fundraiser for Dennis Schrader:

There were also people at the event enlisting signatures for the petition drive to put the Taxpayer Protection Initiative on the ballot this fall. The [Republican] party faithful I spoke with last night were somewhat divided on the wisdom of this effort.

Second, I was at the Columbia lakefront today attending Lakefest events, and on my walk back to my car encountered a couple of people soliciting signatures for the Taxpayer Protection Initiative. This was my first encounter with the TPI in person (as it were), and unfortunately I ended up expressing my opposition to the initiative in what I realized (as soon as the words were out of my mouth) were inappropriate and disrepectful terms. The folks soliciting signatures were enduring a hot day in the sun working for a cause they believed in, and regardless of my opinions of that cause they certainly deserved far better than getting a verbal upbrading from me. So, TPI petition folk, whoever you are, please accept my sincere apologies for my rude behavior.

I was prompted to one final thought on the wisdom of the Taxpayer Protection Initiative by Alan Klein’s proposal (in his county council campaign announcement) that certain services, such as a basic grocery store be considered required elements in a Columbia village center [emphasis added]. I had previously identified as one flaw of the initiative that it didn’t address stealth tax raises in the form of excessive user fees that might charged by the county to make up for the inability to raise additional tax revenue.

Klein’s comment points up another way for the county council to make an end run around the Taxpayer Protection Initiative, namely by imposing unfunded mandates on county businesses and individuals, in other words implementing particular policies by pushing all the costs onto the private sector.

In some cases it makes sense for the county to require that businesses or residents bear the cost of certain provisions. For example, I have no problem with developers being required to assist in paying for roads or sewage facilities that are made necessary as a direct result of their projects being built. However if there are artificially-imposed barriers to raising taxes then that will encourage politicians to take government-imposed mandates well beyond what can be justified, distorting the market and limiting liberty in the process.

For example, what Alan Klein is proposing to do with respect to mandating inclusion of groceries in village centers is in effect to force the owners of the village centers to shoulder the cost burden of implementing Klein’s particular vision of social justice. As I noted in my blog post on this topic, assuming for the sake of argument that there is a genuine public need that needs to be addressed, I think it is more honest and arguably less costly to address it via direct subsidies funded by general tax revenue.

I’m not generally in the habit of giving unsolicited advice to Howard County Republicans, but I’ll repeat what I wrote previously: If you are sincere about pursuing the stated goals behind the Taxpayer Protection Initiative then you should forget this initiative and just work to elect more Republican candidates to the county council. (You don’t even necessarily need a majority; assuming Courtney Watson is reelected, based on her past statements and votes I suspect she’d be willing to join you in at least certain instances where you feel that county government spending has gotten out of hand and needs to be reined in.) Tell those poor people I abused to get out of the hot summer sun, and put them to work for a more worthy cause.

5 thoughts on “More on the Taxpayer Protection Initiative

  1. Ken Aldrich

    Frank,

    There is no more worthy cause than to stop those hell-bent on spending our children’s money and running the U.S beyond bankruptcy. Our children already owe nearly 1/4 million each to pay back what we have spent. Howard County is no exception. This year’s budget was supposedly balanced yet no payment was made toward the county employee’s pension fund. I’ve asked the County Budget Office to explain but so far they have avoided my inquiry.

    We succeeded today despite being ejected from the LakeFest parking lot Friday night. Moreover, we successfully competed in the Chalk-It-Up Art Contest. I hope our artist Anika Theus wins top prize for her beautiful interpretation of Maryland’s tax burden. Our exclusion from city property–don’t tell me the Lake Front area is all private–is but one example of the how the people’s ability to petition their government has been severly restricted throughout this not-so-free county.

    I do accept your apology on behalf of my fellow signature collectors. Gracious of you to offer it. It was definitely hot.

    Ken Aldrich
    TPI Project Manager

    PS: Since the dead have no right to bind the living, the living are under no obligation to pay the debts of the dead. The living have no right to burden posterity with their own debts and are morally bound to pay them within their own time. —Thos. Jefferson

    1. hecker Post author

      Ken: Thanks for stopping by, and for accepting my apology. I’m not an expert on petition law or CA regulations, so I can’t speak to your experience there. I do however wish you cooler weather in your future petition activities.

      Your mention of county employees’ pensions though does being up a point I think is worth noting. I think a problem people are going to have with the TPI is concern over the effects that artificially restricting the power to tax might have on county finances in future. I’m certainly worried about that, and it’s the major reason I’m opposed to the initiative.

      However I think people would be more receptive to a campaign directed specifically at those factors that will strain county finances in the long term, with pension obligations being a major one of those. I suspect that people like me who’ve never had a job with an associated pension are more likely to support reasonable restraints on pension arrangements and associated long-term financial obligations. I think a voter initiative would be a rather blunt instrument to address that problem, but it could certainly be something a candidate could campaign on.

  2. Pat Dornan

    Dear Frank:

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog, and posted a response, so please forgive me if I have misinterpreted your views. I believe from what I’ve read that you have a basic distrust of government (“the initiative…didn’t address “stealth” tax raises in the form of excessive user fees that might charged by the county to make up for the inability to raise additional tax revenue.”)

    I agree. In fact that alone is an excellent reason to restrict government’s ability to tax, thus I might expect you to support the TPI.

    Your argument that user fees should be included has a great deal of merit. For example, the fee imposed upon us for an addition to our house (the school construction tax) has gone up over 10% since its inception. There have been no protests, since everyone doesn’t have to pay it.

    As for your argument that tax cuts should also require a super majority, I would support that if taxes were cut at the same rate that they are increased. Since tax cuts are so rare, and since tax cuts (at least at the federal level) generally increase government revenue (this is well documented), I do not know that it is necessary. But I’d trade that for your support of the TPI.

    regards,

    Pat Dornan
    Founder (and now retired from activism), Howard County Taxpayer’s Association

    1. hecker Post author

      Pat: Thanks for stopping by to comment. You have in fact misinterpreted my views, but your confusion is understandable. I was trying to do proponents of the TPI the courtesy of taking their views seriously, basically trying out putting myself in their shoes. Personally I do have a basic level of trust in elected officials and in government, albeit with the Ronald Reagan caveat of “trust, but verify”. (For more on my own views see my response to PZGURU in my original TPI post.)

      What I was trying to get at in my posts was that *if* I had a basic distrust in government and believed that elected officials were recklessly pursuing a “tax and spend” agenda, then I would not be so foolish as to think that those elected officials were stupid and couldn’t find a way around something like the TPI. And in fact we see such “cleverness” in places like California and elsewhere: substituting user fees for taxes, imposing unfunded mandates on businesses, engaging in accounting chicanery, or just racking up increasing deficits.

      So my conclusion is that if you think elected officials are a bad lot and can’t be trusted not to tax and spend into oblivion, then the best approach is not to try to circumscribe them in ways that they will inevitably evade. Rather it’s to work to elect better public officials, ones more in sync with your own philosophy.

  3. Pingback: Requiem for the Taxpayer Protection Initiative « Frank Hecker

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