Washington’s spectacle of taxes and spending seems from another world.

Billions of dollars are thrown away like small change. Keep in mind that just $ 1,000 billion equals a million million dollars.

It is difficult to understand how such sums of money can be spent responsibly. The laundry lists of programs, projects and beneficiaries are in the dark. But no one really knows what it all means or how much it will really cost.

It was almost cathartic, then, to receive the Marin County property tax bill last month.

Do not mistake yourself. Paying taxes isn’t a Kodak or Instagram moment. Taxes are necessary, however, and the personalized one-page county tax summary featured in the 1980s font offers a heartwarming specificity.

The layout is hardly elegant, but a box on the right details the annual damage. The larger number at the top, the basic tax, is defined by Proposition 13. It is followed by a long list of additional debits – 15 on our invoice – which considerably increases the total due by more than a third for we.

At first glance, the statement is reminiscent of a rental car bill with a multitude of fees, taxes and miscellaneous charges. There is still an important difference. Unlike the many increases in rental bills, increases in property tax finance tangible projects here and now. Indeed, I voted for many of these additional taxes.

These supplements range from $ 12 (mosquito abatement) to several hundred dollars (school obligations). While these charges appear to be for useful purposes, most of us have a limited idea as to whether the money is being spent effectively or even going for the purpose for which it was collected. My hope “close enough to government work” is that two-thirds of the funds will be used productively. In any event, all county residents (especially voters) had a say in this taxation, can shape such future decisions, and can lobby to improve the chances of the money producing the promised benefits. .

The basic tax deserves a closer look. The county collected $ 825 million for the 2019-20 tax year through base tax. How well is this money managed?

About 48% of basic tax revenue goes to schools. Schools also account for the bulk of the additional levies. County administrators know voters are generally in favor of school funding proposals, so they are cutting school budgets by betting the extra money will be raised directly from taxpayers. Yet Marin’s public schools are highly regarded and, at least while our children were in school, the money didn’t seem to be wasted.

The balance of the basic tax proceeds is distributed among the county, towns and districts. The recent agreement between the county and Marin Association of Public Employees provides some insight into how this money is being managed.

The contract announced in September provides for the maintenance of civil servants’ pensions. Barely new, this practice continues to be scandalous.

Pensions are like golden goblets adorned with jewels – an old-fashioned luxury that only a privileged few can drink. Public employees are practically the only part of the workforce that benefits from this special treatment. Worse yet, retirement programs are routinely abused by employees who inflate income in recent years to inflate retirement benefits.

Public entity accounting allows today’s politicians to shift the cost of their trade union agreements onto tomorrow’s taxpayers. The negotiation of pensions and other retirement benefits is fraught with pitfalls. Unions get generous contracts loaded in the background, then reward politicians “sitting across the table” with support at election time.

There is no doubt that many government officials and employees act in the best interests of the community. Yet this corrupt cycle reveals a particularly progressive hybris that puts public servants above the people they are meant to serve.

Many of us pay little attention to local taxation and spending dynamics. We write checks to the county, maybe a little grouse, and then we move on. That’s a shame. Increased engagement better aligns services and spending with community needs and priorities, ultimately generating higher returns on our taxes.

There is also a secondary benefit. Focusing on how to responsibly spend a few million dollars locally will dramatically illustrate the folly of allowing Washington, DC to gamble with millions of millions of our dollars.


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