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.