Monday, March 26, 2007

Ala carte government?

A recent post on Progressive Toledo, "How are they your tax dollars," has raised significant questions about tax dollars and our ability to tell elected officials how we want our monies spent. I've commented on the post, but I wanted to go a different direction and speculate about how government services are provided...

Progressive Toledo's premise is that we can't identify where, specifically, our individual dollars have gone, so we lose ability to make the argument "I don't want my tax dollars to be spent on (fill in the blank)." Each year, I get two notices about my property taxes. Including in this bill are 'fees and assessments" for such things as snow removal, leaf pick-up, tree-trimming, etc...

Considering the blog and the services, I wondered if ala carte government might not be a possibilitiy. What if I could go through the various city services and select which ones I wanted to receive and, consequently, pay for? What if I could pick leaf pick-up but not snow removal? I've got a 4-wheel drive Jeep, so I don't really worry about too much snow, at least, not in Toledo. But I do have lots of trees and more leaves in the fall than I can compost...

What if I could select Fire services, but decline trash pickup? If I could find a private company to dispose of my trash for a lesser cost than what the city charged, I'd be better off. What if, instead of funding an economic development department, I'd prefer my tax dollars to go toward computer services/IT to help make various departments more efficient or to expand my ability to access government services on line?

What if ALL city services were usage based - like water and sewer? This would do several things:
1) It would, by participation, show which city services people thought were a priority.
2) It would inject competition into the delivery of services, thereby reducing consumer costs and/or increasing levels of service.
3) It would also inject personal responsibility into the equation - by making you responsible for any services you DIDN'T select.

Now, I realize that this isn't a comprehensive plan - it's more of a 'what if' question. And I can already hear people say - 'what about someone who doesn't pick fire service and then their house burns down?' Well, that was their decision and they are responsible for the consequences.

And this might not work for all government services, but it works for some already (water and sewer) and I think it's worth exploring in other departments as well. What do you think?

5 comments:

Lisa Renee said...

Interesting theory but trying to put it into practice beyond a few would be difficult. I could see where sewer/water/trash collection could be done on an ala carte basis. Snow removal and leaf removal would be difficult, those who opted to not pay would be getting the benefit of the plowed streets and collected leaves of those who did pay. Leaves seem to travel where they want rather than to stay in one's yard.

Same with economic development and fire services. The non-payer would get the benefit of any growth in the economy. Fire services, a larger issue would be what if the person who did not pay for fire service had a fire that caused your home to burn down. Trying to recoup that could be difficult. What if small children were in the house? Would the decision of the parent to not opt for fire services make the child responsible for that decision?

As to your basic question of should there be some services that a person should be able to opt out of such as water/sewage/trash pick up? Yes...But I don't think this could be extended to many more than that. Perhaps a few like tree trimming...

:-)

Maggie Thurber said...

As I said - this is a what if? idea...

But let's take a look at the economic development department...if that was an ala carte government item and only got $x of support from those who opt for it, that's all the budget they'd have to spend. They'd then be limited as to what type of services they could perform and would have to put their limited funds to the most effective and efficient use. In the end, those who had opted to pay for this service would see results and continue - even expand - the support. If, on the other hand, there were no demonstrable results shown, the taxpayers would divert their limited tax monies to more productive services.

Just throwing out ideas here....

Progressive said...

Maggie,

First of all, thanks for the plug, my traffic is way up today. You can read my comments to your comment over on Progressive Toledo. Of course, with your plug, Maggie detractors have also shown up over there. Don't let my policy of allowing anonymous comments discourage you from commenting on my site in any way.

As to your a la carte plan, I'm very happy something I wrote inspired you to write up a very interesting theory. Under your theory, then yes, I suppose they would be "our tax dollars." Of course, I agree with Lisa Renee that this would be hard to pull off. Anyway, I always love an intellectual discussion. Perhaps we should appear on TV sometime and argue the philosophy of political terminology (remember, I'm a very sarcarstic person).

-Sepp said...

Maggie, the focus should have been on the most vital services right off the bat. Ala carte sounds good to me since my street is never plowed or, salted and, I have no tree that the city trims. As for the fire services and those who do not pay? Kind of the same as those who gamble with no insurance right? The best part of the ala carte plan is that pet projects and social siphons who serve only a few would have to start working on financing their own programs for a change.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

Ala carte government…, if only we could pick and choose our government services.

But with the Fudge-it that Toledo has to work from accurately guesstimating what services cost are nearly impossible to do.

Considering the “temporary” ¾% additional payroll tax, the assessment process and how monies get transferred and swapped around to creatively fill holes that develop, there is little real justification for many of the alleged costs, sohow do you arrive at a true cost to deliver any service.

The way it was told to me, it’s a big shell game, where what’s in or “sexy” gets funded while other line items go wanting, being out of favor, out of fad, or passé. Yet everything gets purchased, creatively justified and paid for.

I’ve also been told that what is dreaded most is a REAL audit. Lots of what apparently goes on in city government wouldn’t pass muster.

Besides, picking ala carte would mean that those left requesting the service would certainly go up as government is not very good at controlling (or lowering) costs. And, how do say, I refuse leaf pickup while all my neighbors accept and pay for the pickup when the winds of Fall makes my refusal of leaf pickup service THEIR problem with the first gust of wind?

The solution is as it is now, the majority vote rules and leaf pickup is imposed on the willing and the not so willing.

I compost my leaves, and have for years, yet every 6 months on my tax bill. . .

Google Analytics Alternative