Government budgets and ideology

Congressional House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price commenting on a plan for a balanced budget said that “budgets are ideological documents,” at least until they become law. At the federal level, ideological differences (conflicts) relate to “shoring up defense spending” versus “massive reduction” in spending for domestic programs, according to a recent editorial from the Washington Post.

Of course, liberal editors think this plan is “out-of-whack” without “raising more tax revenue.” Typically, liberal ideologues rarely consider reduced spending on social programs and always want more taxing.

Back here in the more controllable State and local political environments, government budgets also reflect ideology; for example consider the recent staff-proposed $306.6 million budget in little New Hanover County, North Carolina.

A recent Wilmington StarNews article by Lydia Coutre (link below) reports an ideological conflict with the County budget. Two of five commissioners represent conservative and liberal ideologies. The contrast is striking as we read about a meeting with the County Manager, Chris Coudriet. In his budget, Mr. Coudriet included a $15 million property tax increase that would go “exclusively toward debt service on voter approved bonds.”

The proposed budget includes nearly $30 million to pay interest on debt incurred for public schools and the community college. A small number of voters in this county have indebted all of us for $450 million. Whether the voters who approved this debt were aware of the future tax liabilities was debated by Liberal, Mr. Jonathon Barfield and Conservative, Mr. Woody White:

White: Citizens expect commissioners “to budget within the confines of the money that they’re given and within the parameters of the increases in revenues they enjoy every year without raising taxes…staff and others seem to believe that voter-approved bonds mean they’re approving a tax raise.”

Barfield: It would be naïve for citizens “to believe they can pass $342 million worth of bonds and not have to eventually pay for them…keeping the tax rate flat would cripple the community.”

Barfield and White have other opposing ideologies. White believes that the proposed property tax increase is an “immediate transfer” by vote of the commissioners to take $15 million “from the local economy into our checking account…that’s the wrong thing to do.”

I agree with Mr. White.

Whether we can forgive voters “for they know not what they do” is mute. Maybe we shouldn’t forgive the much greater numbers of voters who failed to vote against debt that satisfies a small number of selfish interest groups.

It’s clear from a peek at the proposed county budget:

The $5.4 million increase in operating budgets for schools and the community college, over current operations costing us $84 million annually, could be reduced or eliminated with no harm to the education of students.

County employees should not have money for “staff salaries” and “merit awards” when their privately employed neighbors live with stagnant wages and shrinking benefits.

$275,000 should not be spent on a “juvenile justice review” and a “Blue Ribbon Commission” under the heading: “Public Safety” having nothing to do with improving the safety of the public.

$500,000 should not go to “investments” in “opportunistic” economic development that benefits very few people in our county population.

If “voters” want gratifying spending and associated debt for new expensive parks; fancy downtown college buildings for fun public events; mass transit facilities used by few people; and new libraries mostly for people who can afford to buy their books and media devices, that should be the priority spending—if the ideology of our representatives is that government should provide whatever the voters want and welcome increased taxes. I doubt that most people support that.

I agree with Commissioner White—that’s the wrong thing to do. Even so, responsible county commissioners should then reduce or eliminate other spending to, as White says, budget within normal revenue increases without imposing more burdensome taxes on their citizens.


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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