March 19, 2013

Another View: County home rule could be key to solving state budget problems

Regional collaboration at the county level would lower the costs of services and taxes.

By Stephen Gorden

A Maine Voices column by Sen. Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves ("Democrats: GOP shutdown threats no way to open budget talks," March 4) addressed the shifting of state governmental expenses from the income tax to the regressive, local property tax.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen Gorden is a resident of North Yarmouth.

Coincidentally, I read an Associated Press article ("Analysis: Tax bills for the rich at highest in decades," March 4) stating that the middle 20 percent of federal income taxpaying households pay a rate 2 percent lower than their average historic rate and that the bottom 20 percent of taxpaying households pay less than 0 percent; they receive a refund larger than taxes paid.

Together, this commentary and this article simply point out what the average citizen senses: Our federal and state tax systems are broken.

Essentially, taxpayer households are frustrated over the "little bang for the tax buck," whereas revenue-recipient households fret over the need for more support to exit their poverty-level existence. The two factions are talking past one another rather than mutually solving the issues.

If we are looking for government reform that fosters innovation and boldness, we need only allow counties to have citizen-approved "home rule."

Immediately, serious intercommunity and county collaboration to optimize duplicative local governmental services would commence. Back office, operational services, facilities, etc., all would be in play.

Why? Regional collaboration would begin in earnest. Currently the political motivation is absent and progress stymied. Collaboration would lower local individual communities' costs and their dependence on state revenues. It would also stabilize income tax rates, yet allow an individual community's participation options to remain.

Compare Midwest states' local governance and property tax costs to ours. Better community functions are provided at the county level in those states at lower rates.

It is all about innovative, gutsy legislative leadership. What we need is county home rule.

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