It’s your money: demand some accountability

Steve Brown's picture

Let’s talk about your money. First of all, there is no such thing as “government revenue.” That is your money. Second, there is no such thing as “government debt.” You are paying the debt, not the government.

The revenue and the debts resulting from government actions belong to the citizens. Your elected representatives can get you in a whole lot of trouble, but the buck stops at your home address. Our performance in the voting booth or our apathy is the source of our communal money problems.

It is your duty to make sure your funds are spent wisely on your behalf, remembering this is the era when your congressman does not read the bills before voting.

Some Republicans, demanding no earmarked spending, are starting to act like responsible stewards of our money. It is really too bad they could not find the gumption to behave this way when they were the majority party. Those conservative principles really kick in when you have no control over things and are struggling to make the people believe in you again.

On the state level, the vast majority of our money used to provide state services is locked up in mandated spending in our state constitution or debt service payments for highway construction and other infrastructure.

Education alone amounts to around 50 percent of the state’s total budget.

The state legislature is putting on a dog and pony show because this is the year all 236 state senators and representatives are up for reelection.

The same group of legislators who get substantial per diem allowances in the tens of thousands of dollars per year on the “honor system” with no receipts, emanating with fluffy expressions about doing the “people’s business,” not able to pass an ethics bill limiting the amount of gifts they can receive from lobbyists and special interests, are tooting their tin horns touting their conservative virtues.

A few high-profile Republican legislators said they would not support the governor’s proposed “bed tax” on hospitals that would be used to close a $608 million shortfall in Medicaid. Of course, they also did not have any viable solutions on how to overcome the shortfall.

In the past, I have chastised Rep. Matt Ramsey for complaining about a broken federal system while accepting the cash flowing from it. This time I support Ramsey for having the guts to deal with a very real and precarious budget situation.

Remember, there is very little flexibility in the state budget, so shifting funds in a major way is not an option. In order to get some of the resistant Republicans who have no ideas of their own to go along with saving Medicaid, some last-minute tax cuts were thrown into the package. The cuts do not begin until 2012 and will not fully take effect until 2016.

Now the resistant Republicans can vote for the hospital bed tax to save the Medicaid program because they passed some tax cuts down the road that are $221 million less than the taxes they just voted in. How about that? If it was not my money, I would laugh.

It would be so darn nice to see our legislators cap the special interest money flowing to them, causing us to believe they actually care about us.

It would be so nice to see our legislators say, “Here is our list of priorities that are most important to Georgians and we will fund them, doing away with all of the pork as a means to meet those goals.”

I know what the majority party in the state legislature is against, but I would like them to actively pursue some of the common sense things they should be supporting.

I was saddened to see Mayor Don Haddix asking for another tax increase via the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to pay off city debt. The last SPLOST attempt was the largest pork-barrel explosion in Fayette County history. The county commissioners acted as though the taxpayers were the Make A Wish Foundation.

There are certain things in Peachtree City like the library expansion, police station and others where residents who live here over time and benefit from them ought to pay the debt service too.

Unfortunately, the Logsdon administration elected to escalate spending. They also financed the Development Authority corruption with Peachtree National Bank and tennis center. We should not be using our money to pay for the dishonesty of others, but we are.

I think Mayor Haddix misunderstood the situation with the wasteful West Fayetteville Bypass. That project is not “almost complete” as he stated and it was indeed a reason why people felt betrayed and decided not to vote for the last SPLOST.

I have met with several City Council members and there are some good ideas floating around about what to do with our budget, except the discussion has been a bit one-sided, discouraging open-mindedness.

We do not need to get in the panic mode and try to pay everything off at once. The current population, straining to get by, does not deserve it. The economy will improve and revenue will increase, requiring patience and the proper assortment of adjustments until that time.

Keep in mind that one of the principal myths of government is that significant taxation efforts will eventually lead to a reduction in taxes. It simply does not happen. If the mayor and council are going to exploit this rationale to encourage another tax increase with a SPLOST, I will be skeptical.

It’s your money and your debt (whether you like it or not), so speak up.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at stevebrownptc@ureach.com.]

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