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Governments long ago figured out that starting the new year in January is a drag, and it is long past time for the rest of us come to the same realization and change when we ring out the old and ring in the new, sing Auld Lang Syne and begin making resolutions.

January is always a slow time of year. Everyone is hung over from that massive month-long holiday "season" that begins with the carving of the turkey on Thanksgiving and ends with the ringing in of a new year at midnight on December 31. And when you start off the year with near record cold, like we saw last week, that just slows things down even more because people huddle up in the comfort of their home and don't go out to do anything. The only thing that makes for a worse start to the year in this part of the country is massive snowstorms, something we've seen in the past, or other severe weather.

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According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. economy contracted 2.9 percent in the first quarter last year. That was a bit larger than expected, but a lot of the drop was attributed to bad weather.

Growth increased 4.5 percent in the second quarter, and by 5 percent in the third quarter. And although new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his opening speech last week gave all the credit for the growth to Republicans -- "The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration's long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress," McConnell said – the fact the he is actually talking about growth that occurred in the three months before the election would suggest that there were other factors at play.

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To be sure, many different factors will help determine whether our economy grows or shrinks in any given quarter, but with all due respect to McConnell, I suggest that the first quarter downturn has more to do with consumer burnout and harsh weather.

That's why we should look at changing when we usher in a new year. Our local governments operate on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, and there's something to be said for starting the budget year on a warm sunny summer day. More people are out and about. They are spending their money or going on family vacations. But June 30 is also the end of the second quarter. If winter was especially bad, or if it rained a lot in the spring, economic growth might suffer. That could put a damper on budgets.

The end of June is definitely better than the end of December for turning over a new year, but if we really want to take full advantage of our rampant consumerism, we should follow the lead of our federal government and begin the new year at what is now considered the start of the final quarter: Oct. 1.

Think about it. Even if the economy is bad, people are going to go out and spend money for the holidays. Plus, we have the added bonus of Halloween, a holiday where spending has been increasing for years. The end result is that, if we move the start of the year to Oct. 1, by the end of the first quarter we will almost certainly always see positive numbers.

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That's a far better way to start off the new year than how we do it now. Typically we start off in a hole because no one spends a lot of money in January. They are less likely to make major purchases, like a new home. Aside from the traditional run on milk, bread and toilet paper whenever a storm is predicted, there isn't a whole lot of positive economic activity happening at the start of a new year.

The only downside to changing when we start the new year is that it would mean that our taxes are due Jan. 15. In that regard, perhaps having a slow January and February is good because it allows people more time to get all their documents together and to file. Doing your taxes at the same time that you are out shopping for holiday gifts might cause folks to spend less. But then, there's no reason why we can't leave the tax collection part as it is. Just put the tax forms in a drawer or an old shoe box when they arrive in the mail in early October and wait until January to begin going through them, with the final due date still April 15.

It could work.

An economic slowdown in the second quarter – January through March – would be easier for us to weather than an economic downturn in the first quarter – January through March.

All in all, I think the positive aspects of the change would far outweigh the negative ones, and that's without even mentioning the positive impact of being able to watch all the parades, or even the famous crystal ball dropping in Times Square, without freezing your tail feathers off.

And that alone would be reason to make the change.

Jim Lee is the Carroll County Times' Editor. Email him at jim.lee@carrollcountytimes.com.

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