February 11, 2005
Maybe it’s the tax system
By Bill Kraus
One of my favorite aphorisms is “Nobody ever washed a rented car.” A close second is “Nobody is abstemious with someone else’s money.”
It seems to me that until and unless the Wisconsin tax system is rearranged in ways that make the spenders assess the taxes to cover what they spend, the second aphorism is going to be active and a propellant for what everyone complains about: government spending.
This, of course, sounds a lot easier to do than it is. Local income taxes, even local sales taxes, bring a lot of undesirable incentives and disincentives into play. But some serious re-sorting of responsibilities and accountabilities is possible.
As long as the state government is collecting and redistributing money for others to spend, everybody has an excuse for unsatisfactory results (“the state didn’t give me enough money”) or high expenses (“the locals are overspending, not us”; “mandates made me do it”).
Spending limits are inevitably procrustean, which is bad, and add another layer of excuses, which is worse.
The law of unintended consequences can be expected to raise havoc with a change in the tax and spend system we have patched together over the last 156 years, but that seems to me to be a risk worth taking to get more accountability into—and a lot of excuses out of—our system.
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