A bill in the Legislature would give that body the power to do away with counties that it deems inefficient. Lincoln and Ferry counties are on an initial list.
The proposal is designed more to stir discussion about the realities of the day than it is to actually make new law, but the discussion also relates directly to one argument against supporting our local school district — an argument at the basis of the most fundamental beliefs we hold as a democratic republic: are we better off forcing all of us to promote the common good (with taxes)? Or should society be based strictly on the idea that the individual (or county, or city or school district) should only get what it or he or she can afford to pay without help from the commonwealth?
Some folks are arguing that because a substantial number of students attending local schools come from families who may not have to pay property taxes, then those who do should not have to support them.
Let’s go down that road a lot further to see where it leads. Only eight counties in the state actually contribute more than they take in. Only six contribute 75 percent of all the taxes to the state. Thirty-one actually suck up more in revenues from the state than they contribute. Every local county is one of the latter. State Rep. Reuven Carlyle‘s bill would allow the Legislature to consolidate counties that operate inefficiently.
For the last decade, I have sat on a board that advises county commissioners how to spend economic development money, which the state rebates to the county from sales taxes the state would normally keep. The Strategic Infrastructure Program, as it is called in Grant County, exists because we widely recognize that helping rural counties in economic development is not only right and fair, but cost-effective in the long run, because the good seeds it plants eventually contribute to the economic crop that benefits the entire state.
In the same way, educating everyone in society, regardless of their ability to pay, is good for us all. That’s even more true now in this age of globalization than it was when America’s founders hit upon the idea.
“As policy makers go down the road on tolling highways and charging user fees for state parks, they are furthering a kind of libertarian notion of government: You use it, you pay for it; everyone else is off the hook. That undercuts the notion that government is a force for fairness, for keeping people bound to a common commitment to help each other even if we don’t benefit directly. It moves us toward giving every citizen an opt-out clause.
Local citizens arguing that they should not have to pay taxes to educate the children of those who don’t would seem to want an opt-out clause. What we need to recognize is that we can’t have it both ways. Giving them such a clause, as libertarianism would deem right, would be encouraging everyone to pull on a central thread that runs through the entire tapestry of our society. It would not be long before the whole picture disolved into a morass of individual threads, each independently signifying, and accomplishing, nothing.