Last week, the Buncombe County Commissioners proposed a 15 percent tax increase. That may only mean a few hundred dollars a year to the average homeowner. It’s nothing that can’t be absorbed into his budget now that he’s working only thirty hours a week and waiting to find out how much more he must pay for healthcare.
According to the last “By the Numbers” report published by the John Locke Foundation, Buncombe County’s per capita revenue in 2011 was $1054.39. Why, that’s only one cup of java a day, for those who still fritter away their money. As Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell said of the city’s intent to raise its revenues a whole lot less than the county, anybody who says they can’t afford a 15 percent increase is lying.
The county held a public hearing on the proposed tax increase this Tuesday, but only four citizens took the microphone. One, Jerry Rice, suggested the low turnout was a reflection of the majority of citizens not having the luxury he enjoyed of being able to attend the meetings. Others were likely working their second job or dealing with what their kids are picking up in public schools. The other three who spoke asked the commissioners to consider taking more property off the tax rolls. Michelle Pace Wood told of a petition 250 people had signed requesting the commissioners to be mindful of their wishes to soon have a new school for fifth and sixth graders in Enka. The other two presented requests for funding the acquisition of more conservation easements.
A frog would surely jump out of his cozy steam bath with a sudden 15 percent increase in temperature, so where is the outrage? Perhaps it is in all the bottles of antidepressants people are taking these days. Or maybe it is absent because the middle class has been eroded beyond a critical point. The middle class has been defined as those who worry about paying bills. Influential upperclassmen either have their deals or can still afford their taxes and fees. But in the meantime, midddleclassmen are becoming lowerclassmen in proportions reminiscent of a zombie thriller. In 2011, 18.1 percent of Buncombe County residents were living in poverty, and that was before the major push that increased the number of food stamp recipients on the national level to 20 percent of the population.
Then again, it is difficult to know what to say in the absence of data. It is understood that leadership is not necessarily always correct, but it offers a sense of order. People elect representatives to select one of a million options and move forward. If every little bit of the budget were open for public haggling, nothing would ever get accomplished. But seriously, what Buncombe County publishes in the name of a budget is not worth the pixels it colors. For example, the schools might state how much is spent on a salary grade, but the average Joe, in between jobs, is not going to have the time to compare the line item to values in prior years or across North Carolina counties; let alone find out how many teachers there are and how pay is distributed amongst them.
Across the state, one finds the same song and dance from other local governments. The budgets are too complex for full transparency, and about the only option elected boards can identify for saving money is reducing resources that would go toward publishing more budgetary information.
Yes, government is expanding. Over half the kids in Buncombe County are from households too impoverished to feed them. The economic recovery, with all its job creation, is such that more people continue to be in need of temporal and psychological welfare. Perhaps most importantly, we are told that kids need pools and sophisticated recreational facilities if they are to be steered away from lives of crime. That notion goes hand-in-hand with the observation that the need for entertainment is entrenched in cultures of poverty, and the recreational industry runs countercyclically to the economy. Visions of bread and circuses recur.
Power is addictive, and like any addict, good or bad fortune, boom or bust, happiness or sadness – everything is a reason to partake. If the economy is good, raise taxes, if it is bad, raise taxes. One person may have spoken against government largesse Tuesday, but another spoke about 250 years ago. The Founding Fathers were among the best group of experts on human nature, and they strove ever so hard to prevent powermongers from becoming tyrants in the New World.
Benjamin Franklin explained, “As all history informs us, there has been in every state and kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing and the governed, the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less. And this has alone occasioned great convulsions, actual civil wars, ending either in dethroning of the princes or enslaving of the people. Generally, indeed, the ruling power carries its point, and we see the revenues of princes constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more. The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes, the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partisans, and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure.”