Thursday, September 30, 2010

Harris County Wants a Raise

Like many other government entities, Harris County is feeling the impact of the recession. Property tax collections have declined and the county has had to dip into its reserve fund. Where the county has historically maintained reserves amounting to about 15 percent of its budget, it will enter the next fiscal year with a cushion of about 1 percent. County officials are warning that a tax increase must be considered, though they made the usual promises to look into cutting spending.

The Chronicle reports that Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole believes that a tax increase cannot be avoided:
"You're absolutely wasting time if you think we can maintain this budget without a tax increase," he [Eversole] said. "If we can get through 2011, we damn sure aren't going to get through 2012. So somewhere along the line either this (budget) has to be cut or we've got to talk about a tax increase."

After the meeting, Eversole said he does not favor a tax increase, but that it has to be on the table along with options for spending cuts.
Unlike private citizens, the county government has an ATM--tax payers--that never runs dry. It can spend beyond its means and then simply demand, at the point of a gun, that tax payers replenish the bank.

Commissioners, eager to show that they are on the side of tax payers, tossed out a few suggestions for meager cuts: ending car allowances and take-home cars for county employee and conducting a study to privatize the county jail. Nobody suggested cutting any of the improper county services that comprise a large part of the budget.

For example, the 2009-2010 budget includes $990 million for toll roads and $437 million for flood control. Even if we concede that privatizing infrastructure services isn't going to happen soon, the county's bloated budget contains plenty of other targets for spending cuts. More than $28.5 million was budgeted for public health and environmental services, $27.3 million for libraries, and $130.9 million for youth and family services. Of course, cutting spending in these areas would require Commissioners to not only grow a spine, but to also reject the morality of altruism.

So long as they believe that individuals have a moral obligation to sacrifice for others, they will continue to fund things like public health, libraries, and youth services. Until they recognize the moral right of each individual to his own life, the pursuit of his own happiness, and the wealth that he creates, they will continue to rob tax payers to pay for the needs of others. And that won't occur until voters refuse to be self-sacrificial milch cows.

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