Viewpoint: The Other Side of Life, Property Axes

By : Jason Leclerc
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Jason Leclerc

I’ve discovered a patch of invasive, non-indigenous flowering weeds on my little patch of American soil. While I wait for the herbicide to kick in, I’m going break out a hatchet to keep it from spreading to my neighbors’ lawns. I’m going to do my duty as a good citizen, destroy an otherwise pretty bed on my own property and protect the fragile native ecosystem. This process may look self-destructive, but it must be done. Stand back, friends, Election Day is coming.

The 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution declares, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Many conservative arguments for states’ rights are rooted in this simple yet powerful clause. Strict constructionists have used this to justify local control over such important institutions as education; it’s invoked in arguments about abortion and gay marriage. Let’s not forget that little squabble about local hegemony in the 1860s.

On many of these issues, as they relate to the 10th, we conservatives proclaim that the nearer our elections are to our address, the more valid they are. Let the feds protect our borders, endorse basic freedoms and guarantee our contracts. We’ll handle education, infrastructure and policing locally.

We know our communities, we know our neighbors, we know our children’s teachers, the cashiers at Publix and the complexities around which utilities should service which neighborhoods. Just as we claim the supremacy of the local in how we spend – budgets are little more than an expression of values and priorities – we also prefer that the funds we contribute remain close at hand in their allocations. Fundamentally, the idea of being taxed so that our hard-earned dollars are spent in others’ communities flies in the face of what we consider good government practice. We want our neighborhoods policed according to our own standards. We want school curricula to reflect our local value sets. There are real and legitimate roles for municipal government and they require funding.

In Jeffersonian terms, we want to cultivate our own fields.

A wholesale anti-tax approach to governance does not jibe with our needs. More importantly, it does not jibe with the responsibilities of citizenship. It is one thing to argue that our federal taxes are an imposition. If that argument is followed up with an argument against local taxes that would fill that gap, then we have neglected our duties as they apply to the legitimate needs that government must provide. We conservatives cannot proclaim that the federal government should be out of the education business (or the healthcare business, or the infrastructure business) and then complain when a municipality makes a claim upon our wealth. Scorched earth leaves us all, eventually, starved.

Do we want A-rated schools where our neighbors’ children learn a spirit of acceptance? Do we want a world-class performing arts center? A venue for New Years’ bowl games? Professional basketball, soccer, football, hockey? Do we want a thriving and bustling downtown? Do we want to attract medical elite? Do we want our home values to increase and the quality of life in an ever-expanding periphery to rise? Do we want neighborhoods that welcome us and value our lives?

These are not free! It’s one thing to proclaim that the federal government hasn’t a place in these issues. It’s an abandonment of our responsibilities as citizens to also proclaim that local government doesn’t deserve funding. It’s a disingenuous position rooted in greed.

Certainly arguments about accountability and the proper allocation of resources raised through taxation – in our case, sales and property – are valid. Consider that such arguments lose credibility in the sunlight of the 10th Amendment from behind which we prefer to swing our rhetorical machetes. We cannot NOT be taxed at all. Government and institutions have their places in modern America. If we want them controlled locally, we need to fund them locally.

When I learn that my property is subject to a higher millage rate, my anti-tax libertarian side reacts viscerally. But my federal-republican-good-citizen-neighbor side says, “Yes, I want the police to be here in five minutes when a suspicious stranger loiters in front of my home; yes, I want my brick street maintained just well enough and speed limits enforced to prevent it from becoming a shortcut from downtown to the airport; yes, I want to safely walk to the new performing arts center; yes, I want a fountain at Lake Eola; yes, Veteran’s Day parades; Yes, Pride parades; yes, local control of educational standards and curricula; yes, community partnerships that bring children’s cancer centers and locally-planted gardens for community-conscious doctors, engineers and teachers to grow and thrive in.”

We, especially those of who are most affected by local taxation on consumption and property, have the most ability to vote with our feet. If we are displeased with the amount of local taxation, we can move to another jurisdiction where we are less imposed upon. And yet, we spread our roots. We are invested and our investments pay off; if they didn’t we WOULD move. Instead, we seek equilibrium based on valid market forces. Those powers, “Not delegated to the United States… are reserved… to the people.” We make our pacts with our communities to meet the needs that we don’t trust the federal government with. Incumbent upon us is to give our neighbors, our councilmen and mayors, our governors and legislators and our water and soil commissioners the resources they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

If we do not, then we have no solid ground upon which to stand when the federal government attempts to fill that empty ground with more non-native greenery.

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