I will admit to being a little out of the loop lately, such is the plight of a 4-H dad at fair time. But I was still quite a bit flummoxed by the headline on the Sunday Herald — that the city is facing a fiscal crunch. “How the heck did that happen?” I wondered.
So I looked around for signs of economic collapse. Hmm, plenty of construction going, Tom’s pix show the Dudley getting bigger every week. Can’t drive anywhere without doing the orange barrell boogie. The parking lots at the Mega-Marts seem as full as ever. Housing prices may have eased slightly with the higher interest rates, but I doubt the assessor has gotten that message yet. So there is more money in Wausau than ever, but still the city seems to be hurting for money.
I suppose the first thing people will want to say is that there is “waste, fraud or mismanagement,” but frankly I don’t buy that one. Most of the work done in city management is handled by the professionals in the various departments and I doubt they did a worse job this year than last year. The article did mention that some costs had gone up, most notably health insurance costs, but that is true for just about everybody.
But the real problem was mentioned fairly far down in the article — the property tax caps and such that have been imposed from above.
I have found much to dislike about the conservative movement of the last 30 years or so, but the biggest problem I have with them is philosophical inconsistency. Or to call a spade a spade: hypocrisy. The guys who literally wear the flag on their chest and shout “freedom and democracy” at every chance they get, can’t believe that the voters of Wausau can’t set their own tax rates. So they did it for us, with the rules and caps. This is their idea of “local control?”
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I understand they are, literally, the price we pay for living in a civilized society. Folks who think their should be no taxes should go live in a shack in the woods — in a third world country with no infrastructure. Me, I’ll take the libraries, parks, roads, schools, police officers and fire fighters, thank you very much. And I would like to get those benefits at a reasonable cost. So accountability is important.
But unfortunately, the politicians of the last 30 years have been extremely dishonest with us. Like certain Maga-Marts, politicians have been chanting the mantra “Lower Taxes” in the same way the Mall-Warts have been chanting “Lowest Everyday Prices.”
But what they don’t talk about is the quality of the “merchandise” that is being marked down or the high cost of those low prices. It is time that we as citizens start demanding that the political leaders talk about what we want government to do first and THEN the most efficient way to get those services.
People sometimes complain about their local newspaper (I have lived in a number of places, each convinced that their local paper was mostly lousy) but at least once a year I am proud of the Herald. Every year the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, or someone like them releases their study that Wisconsin has the highest taxes and so on. And each time the Herald (correctly so, in my estimation) points out that while we may have relatively high taxes in Wisconsin, our quality of life here is quite high as well. Our schools rank highly, our libraries are wonderful, the park system the envy of Illinois and so on.
And so it is locally. Wausau costs a lot to run. Takes a lot of money to provide police and fire protection, clean water, good schools, concrete for roads and so on. This is not to say I agree with every budget priority that has come down the pike — but that is the first thing we need to talk about. Budget priorities.
And it is time to speak up. The Herald article said that perhaps some city services might have to be cut. Maybe there are services YOU could live without (sorry, no fair saying “cut THEIR services” it ain’t cricket or very Christian, either). They also mentioned perhaps increasing “fees.” What services would YOU be willing to pay extra for? Or maybe you would like to call the state legislature on the carpet so that we can set our own tax rates. Or maybe you would like to replace some, most or all of the property tax system with income or other taxes.
It is time we all took a harder look at governmental finances, just voting for “lower taxes” is a prescription for disaster.