Transience and government

Reading Sarah Hoyt’s posts on government and Taking Over The GOP With Sane Americans got me thinking about local government, and particularly the way representative government for localities just doesn’t seem to work all that well in areas with high transience.

Why vote against some local bond measure with interest spread over 30 years, paid for by local taxes over that time period, when you’re only planning to live there for five years? You’re not going to be around to pay for it, but you’ll reap full rewards of use when it’s completed and increased property values when you move.

I’m minded of the article about the woman who said, basically, “I faithfully voted for every initiative to make this neighborhood better, and now I can’t afford to live here!” What did she think was going to happen? Government money has to come from somewhere. Do you think it’s not going to be coming out of your wallet? Well, that’s exactly what happens in areas with high transience. It doesn’t come out of your wallet, because you left! Isn’t that the complaint of basically every state surrounding California? That the people who get fed up with the high taxes move across state lines? And then promptly start voting for more government services in their new, lower-tax areas – as if the government runs on moonbeams and good intentions rather than taxes.

My dad and I were once talking about the local schools – the big line-item in a lot of places’ local government budgets. He told me he’d run the math on the newest county school building project – paid for by 30 year bonds, of course – and told me that it was, by proportion, equivalent to a middle-class family taking out a 30-year loan to buy a refrigerator. That’s insane. But when people are only going to live in the neighborhood for 5 to 10 years instead of 30, what do they care? They want their children to have nice, spacious, modern schools – and they want the school district to have a good reputation for when it comes time to sell and move.

They’re ordering the goods – but they’re not sticking around to pay the bill.

 

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