Thursday, April 24, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

How about a bill for gov’t services rendered?

By
From page A11 | December 15, 2013 | 12 Comments

I like to think that I own my house; that is, I do not have a mortgage so I do not need to make payments to a bank. However, my ownership illusion will be crushed should I ever skip my property tax payment. Currently, I get a bill, due and payable, every six months for rather large lump sum. Most property owners in our county just completed this semiannual ritual.

Anything labeled a “tax” generally has negative connotations. A “property tax” implies a fee you pay just for the privilege of owning the property that you already paid sales tax on. Theoretically, property tax revenue is used to fund services that I, as a citizen of the community, use and want. Right now, the money is all sucked up into one bucket, and never-ending behind-the-scene budget negotiations determine where those resources are allocated.

Winners and losers are determined based not on community demand, but rather the political acumen and might of the various government departments.

When taxes are implemented or increased, they usually are marketed with the goal of bolstering a specific service within the community. Last year, several communities in Solano County supported and passed tax increases with the perceived goal of saving valuable services like police and fire. Thus, votes for the tax increase were de facto votes for public safety. In reality, when (or even if) the additional revenue starts trickling in, it goes to the general fund, where the process of political maneuvering will determine who actually benefits from the additional revenue.

Another major flaw with the current property tax model is that it is based on perceived market worth of the property, and not the actual impact of the property upon the services in the community. If a 2,000-square-foot home with two families is “worth” $100,000, and the 1,000-square-foot house next door has one family and a “worth” of $200,000, the smaller house has twice the tax charge, yet arguably has half the service demand of the larger house.

To reframe that concept, what if your cellphone provider based your rates not on the amount of airtime and data you used, but rather the current market value of the hardware you used? If you have a brand new fifth-generation iPhone, you will pay $100 per month, whereas I will pay $40 a month to use my first-generation iPhone . . . even if I use more bandwidth than you. Seems unfair to some degree, doesn’t it?

Additionally, we currently do not have the option of opting out of “services” we do not want. We never really opted in to many of the services; we just a get a bill void of details. If I am unhappy with the service level of the maintenance at my local park, can I cancel my “contract” with the city and look for another provider? Not likely.

Thus, rather than a blanket charge, let us get an itemized bill for the services government provides. The phone company does it; your doctor does it; your mechanic does it. Why not the government? A hundred bucks per month for police and fire? Sure! Fifty bucks per month for parks and recreation? Sounds fair. Sixty dollars a month for roads and sidewalk maintenance? I can live with that. Forty dollars per month for a senior co-assistant vice-director of administrative oversight? No thank you.

Converting to a service fee-based revenue collection model would allow the respective departments to have a clearer picture of their revenue streams, and not waste bandwidth navigating political channels. If they needed increased revenue, they would need to make the case directly to the citizen-consumers, instead of a gantlet of commissions, committees and councils.

As taxpayers (aka consumers of public services), we have no clean and easy way of ensuring that our dollars are going to the services we expect. Having a direct link to government-related revenue generation and expenditures would empower voters with more representation by voting with their dollars.

Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at lpsolanocounty@gmail.com.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 12 comments

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  • The MisterDecember 15, 2013 - 8:00 am

    I think we found some of your money as explained in Glen's article... your "leaders" in Solano County are bleeding you dry, Brian! Did you see how much the make? Cheese and crackers! Too bad the working employees at the City of Vacaville can't enjoy some of this fiscal stability... they just took a 9 percent pay cut!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895December 15, 2013 - 10:31 am

    Sounds like Brian has a lot of complaints about how Prop 13 operates and how it has affected taxes generally and services provided. I wonder if he realizes it.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895December 15, 2013 - 10:38 am

    Let's break it down. Prop 13 causes the weird allocation of property tax by its definition of taxable value. It doesn't make sense, but we put it in the constitution.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • riw No what book I am reading now?December 15, 2013 - 11:10 am

    Timequake by Vonnegut. It is a quick read, U would probably like it...and ting-a-ling ting-a-ling to U rlw U.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895December 15, 2013 - 11:44 am

    Another point. Prop 13 prohibits raising property taxes for services, so all these new non-property taxes and fees come about. Prop 13 requires a 2/3 vote for a "special tax" but only a simple majority for a "general tax." That's why cities and counties go for general taxes (along with revocable promises on how the money will be spent) rather than truly earmarked money. Let special taxes pass with a majority vote and that wouldn't happen.

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  • rlw895December 15, 2013 - 12:01 pm

    Brian might be happier with benefit assessments rather than taxes paying for services. But still "opting out" is not practicable; government doesn't work like a supermarket. The complaint "we have no clean and easy way of ensuring that our dollars are going to the services we expect" is true. Representative democracy is not "clean and easy," but it's the best we've come up with. Direct democracy is even less clean and easy, and it's given us bad ideas like Prop 13.

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  • Knows Real Bad ideasDecember 15, 2013 - 4:06 pm

    It's funny how the lefties love it when the vote goes their way, but when the people speak up and vote to constrain runaway taxation and spending, the lefties squeal and moan and call the results of the voice of the people "bad ideas." Squeal on, Ricky.

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  • RickyDecember 16, 2013 - 2:04 am

    I would be happy to do away with the too easy initiative process in California and also do away with all it's ideas, good and bad. Let the legislature decide which ideas adopted by the initiative to keep or reject.

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  • rlw895December 15, 2013 - 12:06 pm

    I like benefit assessment districts. They're hard to set up, but provide the fairest taxation possible. Once in the district, a beneficiary can't opt out, but he at least gets to vote proportionally to the presumed benefit conferred. Benefit assessment districts aren't used enough.

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  • Rich GiddensDecember 15, 2013 - 8:44 pm

    Property taxes in Charleston are half of what they are in this disgusting county--- Home values are going ballistic because business is moving in and no gooders are moving out! I can't understand why people like Murray Bass (home was burglarized again) and George Gunn haven't pulled the ejection handle and bailed out yet. What are we waiting for?

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  • B. ThiemerDecember 15, 2013 - 9:39 pm

    I do not have objections with Prop 13 ; it was a bandaid to try to rectify the property tax system. My concern is with the property tax system itself. When government collects tax on a person, property, or activity, it should be to cover the cost of services the government provides directly related to the item being taxed. For example, a vehicle tax should go to roads that vehicles drive on. Most taxes are vaguely related to the taxed item, and then the money is squirreled away in unrelated, unproductive buckets.

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  • rlw895December 16, 2013 - 2:09 am

    That's sort of like people who say they don't like ObamaCare, but when asked about the specific provisions, they like them. You can't say you have no problem with Prop 13 when you just listed several objections to the specific way it works.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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