Wayne Hoffman

Wayne Hoffman

Wayne Hoffman

I’ve always believed, for every single dollar the government spends, each elected official who voted for the spending should be able to look a taxpayer in the eye, without a shred of embarrassment, and explain why the government needed the money more than the person who earned it. In Idaho, those real life conversations would go something like this:

We need the money so that we can build a big message board that is a replica of the main bridge into town. (Twin Falls)

We need the money to install new newspaper boxes downtown. You remember newspapers, don’t you? (Boise)

We need to make a sculpture that’s part canoe and part wave and part paid for by you. (Lewiston)

Have you ever looked at a trash can and thought ‘it sure would be great if this trash can came with Wi-Fi?’ Well, I have. (Sandpoint)

We’re going to build a water park! (Rexburg)

I can’t settle for anything less than a city library designed by an expensive world-renowned architect. (Boise)

Of course, these conversations almost never take place.

Instead, laughable budgetary decisions are bolstered by media coverage that heap praise on local government officials no matter how ludicrous the project. The outcome would be different if those same officials spent as much time listening to ordinary taxpayers as they do their local editorial boards. The outcome would be different if the single mom who works two jobs to make ends meet were asked for her opinion before her money was pried from her hands to subsidize some government official’s grandiose project. It’s too bad that hardly heard are the opinions of the elderly couple who paid off their home but can now barely afford to remain in it because of rising property taxes.

In a matter of days, state lawmakers will consider legislation that, if enacted, would immediately reduce taxes for most Idaho property owners. But, rather than admit that local governments have spent taxpayer money left and right, local officials insist that they’ve done everything they can to keep spending down despite evidence to the contrary. “If only you understood just how conservative we really are with taxpayer money,” cities, counties, and other taxing districts have whined to legislators. Those same legislators must suspend disbelief and pretend they’re unaware that the same officials pleading poverty used taxpayer money to hire a lobbyist to make their case.

Property taxes represent an antiquated way to fund local government. The property tax scheme assumes that the value of your property is tied to the services — schools, police, and fire, as examples — that you will consume. That’s no longer true, and in some awful cases, what a taxpayer pays is tied either to who you know (as government gives out property tax breaks to the politically connected) or to what a buyer could be willing to pay for land like yours. It makes no sense.

But a more immediate concern is that local spending is out of control, and that plays a direct role in rising property taxes. If you want lawmakers to do something about it, now’s the time to make sure your voice is heard over the screams of local officials who contend nothing’s wrong, so they can continue with more spending as usual.

Wayne Hoffman is the president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Email him at wayne@idahofreedom.net.

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe

Load comments