Predicament and Pain in Paradise of Palm Beach County

The people of Palm Beach County can be trusted, much of the time, to make good public decisions if given enough information.

But looking at the coin from the other side, there are times when clever advocates dupe the public.

 An example of public blindness involves the issue of high taxes. The ho-hum explanation for high taxes is that government spends too much. No argument there. But that doesn’t get us to the root problem of why they get away with spending so much.

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I suggest there are two reasons: first, hundreds of local groups exert constant upward pressure on the government, demanding more spending. Average citizens cannot imagine how strong this pressure is for more money, coming from those who sup at the public trough, with their shadowy behind-the-scenes jockeying for government largesse.

One reason is, for every person who complains about paying taxes, our County Commission probably hears from 50 people who want government handouts.

The second reason is that there’s no county-wide mobilization, no group at work, whose primary task is to keep the overall level of taxes low. No big-gun group is keeping an eye on how much we all pay for all taxes and fees combined, and working for tax relief.

To solve our tax problem caused by government charity, some potent organization, some movement, must task themselves to step forward and raise the flag to question the capacity of businesses and individuals to bear the total tax load.

Our predicament in PB County? The advocates for spending overwhelm the advocates for lower taxes and limited government. The process of addressing county and city government has descended into a system of advocates whose salaries often depend on more money from government. They sing praises at public hearings for spending, “while stroking the egos of the politicians as constructive philanthropists,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. It has been stated that 35% of the households in our county have at least one person on a government payroll or public dole.

In close union, these same politicians do not oppose taxes because most of them secretly WANT more taxes. More taxes allow these officials to please a wider range of their constituencies, which helps to ensure their re-election. More taxes help them to get their pet projects funded. They play the “I’ll support taxes for your project if you’ll support taxes for my project” game, with other elected officials. The county commission often avoids the political heat by creating new Special Taxing Districts (STDs), so the commission can claim publicly that it has not raised property taxes.  The last time I looked, there were over 185 STDs that operate in our county. So, taxpayers cannot count on most local politicians to lead any sort of tax rebellion.

One county group believes that children’s issues are the most important issue, so they push the rest of us into backing any new tax that involves children. Another group swears that transportation is our biggest problem, so we need to create new taxes to raise vast amounts of money for roads, overpasses, and transit.  Another bunch says that we need more money for health care.  Some other group bleats that arts and culture are too important to leave behind, so we see increases in the bed tax and bond issues for culture. Yet another group says we need hundreds of millions in new taxes for education. And affordable housing. On and on. The rest of us acquiesce to pet projects of others because we don’t want to appear insensitive.

So, as they say, we have met the enemy. It is us. Until you and I get serious about forming a group to demand politicians say “no” to the interest groups perpetually clamoring for money, there will be no serious tax relief.

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