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Minnich: Taxes are about (whose?) priorities

Taneytown likes the new money that comes into its coffers from residential growth. So do other towns — Westminster, Mt. Airy in particular.

From the perspective of a mayor or town councilman, growth is good. Good, that is, if you have water and sewerage in place and your streets are not in too bad a shape, and if you have enough cops on board to handle the misbehavior of a growing population.

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The really big bills are the problems of the state and county government, and maybe the feds, although there will never be enough from those sources.

There’s never enough. Because no matter how much you take in, there are always more places to spend it than you can afford. The bigger you get, the more diverse priorities (opinions) you have to consider. The more priorities you have, the tougher the jobs of the elected representatives.

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Five or six stories recent stories in The Carroll County Times and other places point out the different perspectives on how to raise and spend money. Former Westminster Mayor Kevin Dayhoff wrote in his Sunday column about the history of state retail sales taxes. They began modestly in 1947, have grown, and will never go away. The justification for the state-wide tax was to share revenues with local governments to help pay for education and roads and other public needs.

Other needs. The difference between a fiscal conservative and a progressive is how they define what other is, and whether it’s really a need or just a want.

Another difference is in what constituency the elected government represents; the priorities are all over the place, not the least of which is getting re-elected. Part of the attraction of a state sales tax to local politicians was that it took them off the hook for some of the cost of government.

Incorporated towns may have more coming in from residential growth, but they won’t spend any of it building schools or paying teachers. That’s the county’s problem. The town councils won’t want to raise taxes because they already hear directly from the citizenry about how they spend too much.

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The county will have more coming in from property taxes, but state and county taxes will not pay for the cost of schools, teacher pay, additional sports facilities, roads and maintenance, water and sewerage in area not falling inside incorporated towns, and other things most of us consider needs, not wants. Like fire and police services. Or turf sports fields. The commissioners hate to raise taxes because this is a conservative, Republican county.

The state delegates representing Carroll County and parts of other nearby conservative communities will be reluctant to raise state taxes or fees, and will protest with vigor when more progressive state electeds from other subdivisions run up the bill, but they’ll have the benefit of taking credit for any increase — no matter how insufficient — finds its way back to county use.

What they will all do is essentially what the Transportation Safety Administration did with the fees you pay for safe air travel. It began as a $2.50 fee per air passenger, one way, to fund TSA operations. Now it’s up close to $6 per passenger and a big chunk of it has been diverted to other uses. So neither the counties nor the towns can count on enough money coming from the state to offset the cost of state and federal mandates.

Budget director Ted Zeleski told the commissioners that revenue projections for the next five years must be adjusted downward. We will not get as much income as we had been expecting.

The priorities are easy to recognize: The public wants what it wants but does not want to pay for it. The politicians who get elected want to get elected again, so they play the old shell game with expenditures. The employees advise the elected officials but do what they’re told.

Like the plumber said, it all flows downhill.

That’s what makes this great nation work.

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