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August 11, 2011

Voting with Your Feet

Amanda Haddaway

Last week, reported that the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute is recommending $2.6 billion in tax increases to cure the state’s budget shortfalls. At least one state delegate, Del. Ron George (R., Anne Arundel), is concerned that people will be forced to move out of the state if taxes increase any further.


We should all be concerned. There are many people in our communities who are barely keeping their heads above water and simply can’t afford additional taxes.


In the human resources business, there’s an expression about employees voting with their feet. It essentially means that some employees won’t voice their complaints to an employer. Instead, they just leave for a job elsewhere.


This phrase is also applicable to the way citizens behave when they’re unhappy with the decisions that their elected officials have made or failed to make. If taxes increase, there is a greater likelihood that current Maryland residents will opt for lower taxes and a lower cost of living in neighboring states.


Many people are simply disenchanted with the government, their elected officials and the whole business of politics. Really, who can blame them?


Frederick County residents are better situated geographically than many of our fellow Marylanders. In about a half hour, we can be in Virginia, Pennsylvania or West Virginia. There are many area residents who take advantage of our location by crossing state lines to buy cigarettes, alcohol and other items in an effort to reduce their total taxes on goods. If taxes continue to rise, will they opt to just pack up their bags and move to a neighboring state rather than making a weekly junket? Indeed, some will.


The numbers aren’t clear on how many people would choose to move, but with less people paying taxes, the burden becomes larger on those people still living in Maryland.


The Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute’s so-called solution isn’t really a viable answer at all. They are advocating for more taxes so that we can continue to spend. This is the same thinking that landed us here in the first place.


There needs to be an ideological shift in Annapolis and Washington. Instead of “going along to get along,” we need elected officials who will fight to reduce spending. We need leaders who will work hard to determine where there’s waste and then cut it.


U.S. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R., -MD 6th) was recently quoted as saying that he voted for the debt ceiling bill because “it was the lesser of two evils.” That’s simply not good enough.


While zero-based budgeting would create more work at the departmental level, we need to look at this as a way to defend essential expenditures. The days of an automatic budget increase each year and “use it or lose it” funding must stop. We simply can’t afford this idiotic and outdated method of calculating a budget.


The essential services – public works and public safety – must take precedence in the budgeting process. Those are the core functions of government. However, some (or possibly a lot) of the “nice to have services” will need to be eliminated or downgraded significantly.


There also needs to be some accountability. As voters and taxpayers, we must tell our leaders when we’re unhappy. We must not become content with repeated poor decisions and re-elect people who have outlived their effectiveness and ability to listen to their bosses – their constituents.


It may not be pretty, but we can’t afford to continue along our complacent path.


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