After a column I wrote commenting on the ongoing budget woes plaguing Macon-Bibb County government appeared in The Telegraph a few weeks ago, a county commissioner contacted me on Facebook. This commissioner sent me a message that had some nice things to say about my column, which I especially appreciated in light of the fact that the column had included some strong criticism of the commission’s inability to work with the mayor to resolve the county’s budgeting issues before the situation turned into a crisis.
He also added me as a friend on Facebook, which allowed me to observe the conversations he was having there with some of his constituents as the budget crisis continued to unfold. As you might imagine, these discussions were often rather animated.
And you probably won’t be surprised to hear that most of the residents commenting on his posts were adamantly opposed to another tax increase. Many of them also helpfully listed things they believed the consolidated government could stop paying for to balance the books without hitting them up for more money.
Of course there was no consensus among the commenters on what spending was “essential” and what was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Some people just want to fund the police and fire departments and let most everything else (public libraries, public transportation, recreation facilities, museums, etc.) be self-funded if they are to survive. Others pick and choose what programs they believe are worthy of public funding and which ones are not.
There was one theme that was repeated fairly often during these discussions that deserves to be examined and addressed in some detail. Some commenters suggested that Macon- Bibb’s government was only raising taxes because there were too many big-spending liberal Democrats on the commission. They often went on to add that the commission should take a cue from President Trump and the Republicans in Washington who were reducing the tax burden on hard-working Americans rather than making us pay more.
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in an age where nonsense is often embraced as wisdom, and the idea that local governments should adopt the financial practices currently being followed by the numbskulls in Washington, D.C. is a prime example of that sad fact.
The tax cuts that were passed by the federal government last year are being financed by adding to the already-outrageous amount of debt we are accumulating at the federal level. Local governments like Macon-Bibb are subject to more stringent accounting rules than the all-powerful federal government, which pretty much answers to no one.
Just imagine if Mayor Robert Reichert had the authority to run up debt without restriction. He could announce that he was going to cut taxes for all residents and businesses, all while continuing to fully finance all current county spending obligations. What a boost that would be for voter morale and for the local economy.
But you can’t deficit-spend your way to long-term prosperity, and eventually the bill would come due (as it certainly will for our federal government). We should be thankful that local governments don’t have that option.
I closed my last column by suggesting Macon-Bibb residents consider putting some new faces on the commission and in the mayor’s office if they aren’t happy with how things are being run. I’m not going to walk back that suggestion, but after getting a ringside seat to observe the demands, judgments, and outright insults local elected officials have to endure I feel like I should add a warning to that suggestion.
If you are considering stepping up and running for public office, just be aware that it’s a high-stress job, and public scorn and ridicule will be part of the deal no matter what decisions you make once you’re in office. You had better have some pretty thick skin if you decide to enter politics these days. It’s more of a blood sport than ever.