Lower taxes, more efficient government, and collectively living within our means are appropriate goals for the institutions we have created to do the public’s business. I have worked with many elected and appointed officials over the past 30 years or so and I don’t recall anyone advocating for inefficiency, waste, and raising taxes for the fun of it.
The following excerpt from The Oregonian illustrates what can happen when our desire for low taxes is taken to extremes:
In early November, voters in Curry County overwhelmingly rejected a public-safety levy to fund the sheriff’s office, the Juvenile Department and the district attorney’s office.
As things stand, even if the county eliminates every service it provides from its general fund budget over the next two years — juvenile, patrol deputies, 911, the DA, commissioners, the treasurer’s office, the county clerk and others — the $1.3 million raised annually from property taxes may be insufficient to cover just the cost of running its jail.
Perhaps voters in Curry County will have a change of heart before doing away with their 911 center and other important services, but placing those services at risk strikes me as a threat both to current residents and future development prospects. Who would choose to open a business, for example, in a place where there would be so little protection for the investment, not to mention the investor’s family?
The necessity of the service should not, in my opinion, serve as an excuse for poor performance or a license for unlimited spending. Government should be under constant pressure to be effective and provide value to the public it serves. Starving government services, however, ultimately works against effectiveness and reduces both their quantity and quality. The most experienced, knowledgeable, and highest performing public employees are unlikely to view Curry County as the place to build their future. I saw this principle at work when I started my career in a small town that offered relatively low compensation to its public employees. Few people retired from city service as most moved on to better paying jobs in other places after a few years.
If the bath water represents the unwanted waste inherent in any organization, then the baby would be the essential services that the vast majority of people want and expect in civilized places. The idea of complete self reliance may be attractive in the abstract, but it becomes much less so in the places where the requirement for it actually exists. Curry County may be on the verge of eliminating waste in its local government services by simply eliminating them altogether. Residents there may have cause to mourn the baby after briefly celebrating the disappearance of the bath water.