On its website, the International City/County Management Association states, “Each time we turn on the tap in our kitchens, set the trash out for pickup the next day, or cruise through our neighborhoods on newly paved roads, we access our local governments. Providing essential community services that ensure the quality of our lives is what local government is all about.”
Property taxpayers in large metropolitan areas bear a heavy burden, paying for services not just for themselves but also for suburbanites who dart in and out of the city and for commercial traffic on local roads and highways that carve up valuable space.
Simply put, these community assets cost far more to build and operate than the users of these services are asked to pay, yet we build them and share them anyway.
Most of us were brought up knowing The Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you. But in business there is a saying that he who has the gold makes the rules.
In cities and in government in general, taxes are gold, and the goal is to make sure that gold is wisely spent.
At the national level, it is more and more common that vendors provide government with products made in America. We even have the Davis Bacon Act and other laws designed to ensure local workers paid with taxpayer money are not at a disadvantage to those from away who are willing to work for less than a particular prevailing wage.
But that doesn’t mean tax money always is spent wisely.
Today, there is a buzz surrounding lifting the residency requirement for teachers, police officers and firefighters in the city of Milwaukee. Such a move surely would change the mosaic of our city, leaving behind low-income people, many of whom are minorities, to carry the burden of paying higher and higher property taxes.
And if that happens, we collectively would watch as a new glut of vacant and abandoned properties crop up around the city, adding to the ongoing devastation caused by the bursting of the housing bubble.
We can’t afford for those who receive local taxpayer money as salary to avoid paying taxes to support the system that supports them.
We should be doing the opposite, bringing in more people, inviting more cultural and economic interaction and creating more connections that only can be helpful in a country that historically has proclaimed itself a melting pot.
Milwaukee has achieved a delicate balance to sustain the quality of its residents’ lives. But those services come at a cost, and there’s only so much gold a taxpayer can give.