Publisher's Note: Money well spent?
By Jody Reese
When are taxes too high?
That seems like a good question to ask amid the budget talks at the state level and in many New Hampshire communities, including Manchester and Nashua.
Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, who is running for Congress, and Fred Tausch, the leader of the anti-stimulus group Steward, both are arguing that the federal government is spending too much to stimulate the economy. In Manchester, Guinta is pushing to keep property taxes flat. Governor John Lynch says he will veto a 15-centers-per-gallon increase in the gas tax.
It seems reasonable for Guinta, Tausch and Lynch to want to keep taxes down. Like everyone else, I too want to pay less for my government services. I’d also like to pay less for my groceries and cable. And I could, if I wanted the basic cable package and to eat ramen noodles every day. Of course, that’s the big issue: finding a balance between what we, as a city, state and country, feel we should spend for our government services and what those services are worth. Is it worth it to pay $40 million for a jet fighter? Is it worth it to spend to support free lunch programs at public schools or prop up the price of corn? These are tough questions to answer. But they get to heart of what we talk about around every budget season. Where’s the balance between taxing us citizens and the cost of our government?
This question has been particularly acute in the education funding debate. A few weeks ago, Hippo did a cover story asking whether spending more money get towns better-quality schools. There’s no easy answer there, but clearly more money doesn’t hurt.
So are taxes too high? Each community decides that by who they elect. In Manchester, the answer has been “sort of” for the last few years as the aldermen and mayor have tussled over small changes in the tax bills.
But what if we changed the question and asked instead if we are getting our money’s worth. In other words, forget how much we’re paying and ask, are you satisfied with the schools, the policing, the roads or the parks? I think then the debate really changes from one of “I don’t want my taxes to increase” to “what value do I place on our roads, school and police.”
Unfortunately for government, the answer isn’t always a good one. It may be that the issue is that voters don’t feel they are getting good value for their tax dollars. That’s where issues of civil servant pay, retirement and health benefits and efficiencies can come into play. Is our money well spent?
In these tough times, voters are going to be asking that question and if government can’t answer that question with a resounding yes and here’s why, then how can voters be blamed for supporting candidates who want to reduce spending?
Government is like any other service we bargain for. If we feel we’re not getting value, then we won’t keep buying.