By Nathan Barton
A correspondent shared an article from the Tampa Bay (Florida) Times about a bill in Florida that would raise the “homestead exemption” for property taxes to $75,000. That is a scheme by which the first $75,000 appraised value of a house is not subject to property taxes. It is a way (theoretically, at least) to protect poorer homeowners from losing their homes due to heavy property tax burdens. Since taxes for education are not going to be subject to the exemption, the average Floridian homeowner will see their property tax reduced by $275 per year, starting in 2019, if the voters ratify the legislature’s action.
The article concentrated on an estimate that this would take $619 million dollars in revenue away from local (county and city and special district) governments in Florida. The argument is that other taxes would have to be raised to replace this money so that these governments could continue to provide services.
Of course all these services are “essential” and therefore the money “must” be replaced lest Floridians lack what they need to be provided by government.
Essential? By whose definition? Provided by government? Why?
The list of services provided by local governments here in the Fifty States has grown and grown for decades. The claim that many services are “essential” has grown even faster. Many of these are services that people once either provided for themselves or paid someone voluntarily to do for them. Today, most people take for granted that some level of government will provide these services, usually at taxpayer expense and not through fee-based services. At the same time, many of the traditional “essential” services provided by local government are increasingly supported by fees, when they were once virtually all tax-supported.
Here is a partial list of “government services” provided by local (mostly city and county and town/township) governments. In some cases, these are services provided by state governments through local governments – and in some cases these are federal government services which are administered by local government. Many of these services are paid partly by state and/or federal funds with local governments having to match the funds (sometimes with as little as 5% of the total cost).
- law enforcement
- animal control
- recording of property ownership records
- road and bridge construction and maintenance
- weed and pest control
- punishment of minor crimes and offenses (by jailing, useful public service, probation, parole, etc.)
- public health (and environmental) protection service
- airport operations (including construction and maintenance)
- unemployment compensation
- employment (hiring) services
- health services – especially for the poor and/or indigent
- child, women, and elderly protective services
- veteran’s services
- elderly and other social centers
- welfare for the poor and indigent and disabled/handicapped
- parks and sports fields
- recreation services (rec centers, social centers, etc.)
- county fairs (fairgrounds and events at those fairgrounds or event centers)
- water purification and distribution
- waste water collection and treatment
- solid waste collection and disposal
- appraisal of property for determining taxes
- collecting taxes
- registering vehicles and trailers (and sometimes other personal property)
- storm water collection and treatment
- emergency medical services (ambulance, etc.)
- fire prevention and fighting services
- land use and planning control
- coroner services
- surveying services
- emergency communications services
- other communications services (cable television, internet, etc.)
- judicial services (civil cases – criminal cases are part of “law enforcement”)
- document recording services
The list could go on and on, but these are the most common. Sometimes we may not realize exactly how much local government does provide. And there are also the outliers: counties or cities which provide even more: owning and operating hospitals and clinics, retirement homes, colleges and tech schools, and more.
But the question (with which this column ends, for now) is which of these services are services that (a) local government SHOULD provide, (2) that no other entities can provide, and (3) that are “essential” services to provide?
Can we even define “essential” for this?
Obviously, as an anarchist, I believe that there is NO service which only government can provide, and NO service that government SHOULD provide, but the details and the view of the vast majority of our society are factors that have to be taken into account. So the major question is what are truly essential services that someone must provide, and that (for now) most people are willing (or tolerate) that local governments, not private (profit or non-profit) nor state/federal government should.
Unless it is possible to reasonably and logically determine what should and can be expected to be provided, and what is essential, these decisions will be made based on emotions and propaganda – which is probably happening in Florida.