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Tatum: Divvying up the trough

Posted: February 17, 2015 9:22 a.m.
Updated: February 18, 2015 1:00 a.m.

Remember the old story about the farmer and his pig with the wooden leg?

As the story goes, a Yankee tourist traveling in these parts happened to see a farmer on the side of the road hand-feeding apples to a pig. Intrigued, he slowed for a better look and was astounded to see that the pig, as fine a specimen of porcine pulchritude as ever lived, was actually possessed of three good legs and a wooden peg leg.

Fascinated, the tourist stopped to inquire.

“Well, this pig is mighty special,” drawled the farmer with some pride. “He’s just as smart as a whip -- in fact, he actually saved my family when our house burned down in the middle of the night. Another time, he ran to the house to alert my wife when I fell off the tractor and broke my arm. I might still be out in that soybean field over yonder if it weren’t for him. Yep, he’s really special.”

“But what about the wooden leg?” said the tourist.

“Well, now, you wouldn’t want to eat a pig like that all at once, would you,” replied the farmer.

That pretty much sums up how I feel every time the legislature goes back to the farm, as it were.

The latest attempt to pull a little more meat from our collective backside comes to us -- allegedly in the name of economic development -- in the form of some proposals to slash, possibly even eliminate, local business license fees. Like most such ideas, it’s a pretty theory but a real-world disaster. It would be fine if they would actually replace those funds. But they won’t. Brows furrowed, nostrils flaring as though sitting far too close to a windy old bird dog, they’ll simply agree that we as a state have problems, there are no easy solutions, and it’s going to be painful for us all.

That’s nice, even somewhat true, but here’s the thing: You folks should have been a little more diligent a long time ago. I’m not the one who has drunkenly handed out tax breaks to every little special interest nematode in the capital lawn. I’m not one of the lobotomy patients who passed such fiduciary kidney stones as Act 388. And I’m not the one who balks at raising taxes on such sundries as cigarettes and yachts.

Part of the problem is Columbia has been end-running around home rule and local government funding for nearly a decade. This has resulted in the locals pointedly complaining they have to make up lost revenues as best they can from the few remaining sources they have, such as business license fees.

An argument -- cynical as it may sound -- could be made that those who want to have the whole trough might take such complaints and statements as demands, even veiled threats. Those boss hogs might even come up with an answer, in the form of such legislative proposals, just to prove that they, ah, cast longer shadows, if you know what I mean.

I’m not saying that’s the case here -- but the idea could certainly be entertained, at least over a beer or two, anyway.

At the moment, those who are proposing this legislation are honking the idea that it’s good for economic development -- that somehow, by making it cheap, even free to open a business anywhere in the state, new business people will just come a-running, commerce will increase as if by magic, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

Yep. And the next sound you hear will be the sound of flying monkeys being birthed from the backside of my boxer shorts.

They may be right about one thing: new business people just might come a swarming -- in exactly the same way locusts swarm a virgin cornfield. I don’t know about you, but I have very little use for anyone with no ties to and no vested interest in my community profiting off my community.

See, here’s the problem: Once all these folks set up shop, they still need fire protection, police protection, garbage service, water and sewer, and other such services local governments provide. We also know that once taken, those local funds won’t be coming back. We also know we wouldn’t want a larger entity -- like a state agency -- to either be in charge of funding or even operating services more efficiently delivered at the local level. In fact, we have seen, time and time again, the larger the government agency in charge, the more wasteful, uncaring, and incompetent the services they render are. Or to be a little less caustic, let’s just say we already know, from vast experience, that one size cannot fit all.

OK, so let’s say the legislature does actually slash or eliminate business license fees. What then?

Local revenues shrink, but the need -- and expectation -- for the same or higher levels of services remain the same. Therefore, someone has to pony up -- or rather, pig up, as it were.

That someone would be you and me, yet again.

Yep. Tax increases, lots of them for the foreseeable future. Pardon the pun, but we’ll be paying at least a leg for it.

Bet you a plate of good barbecue on that one.


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