David Cox: Surviving the Storm, Part II

Column by David Cox

We’re far from out of the woods with regard to the stock market. The nation still faces major economic woes.along with everything else. And these will affect us here in Lexington and Rockbridge County.

I suggested last week that we here might be in a better situation than many to face the storm. Our unique advantages, especially an economy based (at least in Lexington) on education, retirement, and tourism is not as vulnerable to recession as those places where factories will close or jobs shipped overseas. Yes, tourism may fall, the other two may falter, but comparatively, we have strengths that others envy.

Nonetheless, the next year-or more-could be tough. What to do? Here are two ideas for starters. I hope others will come up with other suggestions. My purpose is really to get our people thinking together about how together we can sustain the lousy economic climate.

1. Shop Downtown Lexington. More broadly, do business locally.

The principle has already been established by the apparently growing success of Wednesday’s Farmers’ Market. Buying local does good for our neighbors even as it does good for us consumers, as we get very fresh, high quality products. Yes, it sometimes costs a bit more (though often much less than at the ongoing supermarkets). But the quality makes the investment worthwhile, the more so because it invests in our local economy: Those additional cents go into the pockets of local producers who, in turn (we hope) buy local.

We’re now at a point when other local retailers may need us, their friends and neighbors, all the more if outside visitors should not be so plentiful. So here we are: Put down the phone, don’t use the Internet if you can; head downtown to Lexington or Buena Vista. At least look there first. You and I can make a difference in our own front yards.

2. Get rid of those unfunded mandates.

That may be more the task of our authorities, but average citizens can support them. First, though, everyone needs to understand the problem.

For years now, “higher” levels of government have been passing rules, regulations and mandates that they themselves don’t pay for, expecting “lower” levels to pick up the tab. Let’s say our U.S. congressmen – representatives and senators alike – decide to clean up the waters: Who can oppose clean water? So they insist the states reduce emissions by a certain percent. The states all say, “Yippee” something the legislators can brag about at the next election. But since they, like the Feds, surely don’t want to raise taxes for the job, they insist that localities build treatment plants. Who gets the bill? Cities like Lexington and BV and counties like Rockbridge. And how do they pay for it? The only major source of revenue left to them is property taxes.

If you ever wonder why your property taxes have gone up, count up the number of unfunded mandates passed along to your jurisdiction.

Now, with dollars so scarce on every level, let’s ask every level to look at what it asks. Do we need that mandate any more? Is it worthwhile? Is it met? Is it even relevant? What, for instance, can be eased so the cost doesn’t need to be borne? Just last week the local Community Services Board, of which I’m a member, voted to ask the governor and appropriate state departments to reconsider what it is they insist on in the way of requirements, even of reporting, that run up local costs. If they’re not needed, why do them? If they are, then help us pay for them. If the state won’t pay for them, then the state should seriously ask if they’re really all that important.

I hear others are asking similar questions.

What we can do as citizens is to remind our delegates and senators that when they pass programs and policies to make the world a better place, there is almost always a price tag; and even if the state doesn’t pay it, the localities will. So don’t tell us they’re not raising taxes on the state level when they’re forcing higher costs, and thus taxes, on the city and county levels.

Instead, ask them to help the process. Get rid of what’s not needed, or what the state isn’t willing to pay for. And don’t pass any more.

This isn’t a cure-all; it doesn’t increase revenue (unless the state kicks in-fat chance). But if it helps reduce expenses, then that both helps meet what expenses we really must pay and maybe ease the pain at tax time.

And in an economic storm, every bit helps.

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