Imagine your house is on fire. The fire department shows up. You thank God. However, you find out the thanks is premature as all they do is watch as the fire consumes your home, your possessions, your pets, everything, as if put upon a funeral pyre. You forgot to pay the $75 dollar “fee.”
On Oct 6, 2010, this precise scenario happened to Mr. Crannick of Tennessee. He begged, he pleaded, offered any amount on the spot to have the bold and brave firefighters save his home. Nothin doin.
The fire department did take action though, for his neighbor – saves his property as Crannick’s home lit up like a bonfire at a homecoming, sans cheerleaders, hotdogs and marshmallows. The neighbor didn’t forget to pay.
Why is a house burning down to the ground in Tennessee have any relevance to those of us in Wisconsin? Turns out plenty. Let’s walk very carefully and think through these next few thoughts. You have to pay for things you need.
The thesis: even though you put a cap on revenues (taxes), services still cost money and are subject to cost increases.
Not unlike a schoolboy, giddy at the thought of having only a half-day of school, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) got a motion he authored creating a permanent cap on property taxes passed and will soon become part of the biennial budget. Vos said, "Taxpayers can circle this date on their calendars," "We’re making history by creating a permanent property tax cap.” YEEHAWW!
Vos said, "We’re putting money where our mouth is,” “We've talked about permanent property tax limits during the last campaign and now we're making it happen so local governments finally will have the fiscal certainty they need.” The certainty he is talking about is local governments being handcuffed to raise revenues to provide services. I like the idea of my taxes not going up – I also like the idea of being able to have government services we all need.
“This also will give families the assurance that their property tax bills can’t grow more than their income,” said Vos. Okay, you’ve addressed the family side of this equation – did you remember to put a cap on how much things cost for our town governments? No, of course you didn’t. Oops! In the real world – costs rise, and in this case I would bet the cost of needed services will rise more than the 1.5 percent – unless of course you like less police, fire, education – then the needed cuts to these won’t bother you (just ask Mr. Crannick.)
Vos struggles to barely reach the level of a surface thinker on this one, great for families in one aspect – bad for them in others. Reduced funding for schools to be sure, but it goes much deeper. Having constrained the ability to raise revenues via taxation, the remaining options available are either cuts to services or – fees. That’s right. The same fees Mr. Crannick wished he remembered to pay.
Vos’ conservative viewpoint is fatally flawed. Yes, we have a spending problem – but we have a revenue problem too. Think deeper.