"Don't tread on me," the rallying cry of the American Revolution, summed up the sentiments of a people overtaxed by a non-responsive government. As the present recession drags on, conservatives are revisiting this sentiment, re-examining their principles and re-thinking the role of government at every level.
Our economic crisis delivered high unemployment in the private sector and declining revenues to governments at every level. On the federal level, President Barack Obama's reaction has been to increase spending and balloon the deficit. Vice President Joe Biden has been quoted as saying we need to spend our way out of this problem.
On the state and local levels, we cannot print money like the federal government. State and local governments have been forced to cut budgets and raise taxes. Gwinnett County commissioners proposed a 25 to 30 percent property tax hike until public outrage forced the commissioners to drop the measure and implement spending cuts. At every level, the economic crisis is driving politicians to find solutions.
In Snellville, we wrestled with our own budget crises but have managed to find a way to continue essential government services, such as public safety and public works, without raising taxes. We accomplished this by cutting our budget to the bone, deferring spending on important but non-essential items and looking at more efficient means of collecting existing revenue. We eliminated raises for city employees. We removed all travel and training expenditures for the mayor and council and left only the critical training for employees.
During the process, we required each department head to return again and again to their budgets to eliminate every request that was not necessary to accomplish their mission. We are not completely out of the woods, but we brought the problem to a manageable level and convinced even those on the council who wanted to raise taxes that the budget can be balanced without additional taxes.
As a conservative, I begin with the assumption that less taxation, like less government, is better. The discussion, the process and the solution must begin with this proposition. It is necessary to fund essential government services such as public safety and public works.
However, once we get beyond the basic, most essential government services, the questions must be asked: "How much government do we need? Which government services are essential?" It is not difficult to understand that the only way we can control taxation is to control spending and the size of government. As government creeps ever larger in size, the demand for funding through taxation grows. Controlling the size and reach of government is the only true process to cap taxes.
For too long, elected officials, even those claiming to be conservatives and Republicans, have hidden behind accounting gimmicks and word play to claim they have cut taxes while they continue to grow government. Interestingly, in the face of this economic crisis we are handed a unique opportunity to rethink and perhaps reverse this process.
While, at least on the local level, we are cutting and slicing government, we are making fundamental decisions between what government we must have and that which we want if we can find the money. It is time to examine government budgets containing only the government and the spending that is absolutely necessary and begin to understand that this is the only level of government we should maintain. We are cutting to the bare bones now. Later, when money is moving, we need to decide to keep the bones and refuse to layer on the fat again.
It is in these difficult economic times, with diminished home values and declining tax revenues, that true conservatives should make their voices heard. This is the time to attend those inconvenient public hearings on the budget and the tax digest.
This is the time to look over the shoulder of the politicians; this is the time voice opinion as to what government we should fund - what is essential and what must be cut. Then next time, do it again, and then again. Even when revenue begins to increase, do it again. Remind your elected officials that government is for the people - not for the politicians.
Studying government budgets and going to public hearings may not be easy, but as citizens it is our responsibility. This is the time to be clear about the size and nature of the government we want and require and make certain that the politicians hear. The cry "don't tread on me!" was used to warn a government that it answers to the people. It is time again to warn our governments to tread lightly and listen to the will of the people.
Warren Auld is a member of the Snellville City Council.