Editor, There’s been much discussion lately about the burden of government in our personal and business lives. While it’s entertaining to watch the conflicts and contempt among elected and bureaucratic hirelings in Washington and Atlanta, the grim reality is that the detrimental and destructive effects of government are most often inflicted on citizens at the local level in their dealings with city and county governments.
Consider that in nearly every endeavor we undertake, whether it’s to start and operate a business, purchase property, educate our children, build a home, employ our professional or trade abilities, manage our finances, or a myriad of other life occurrences, we are compelled to seek permission from one or more local government entities, usually with the added punishment of fees and other monetary demands.
Add to this the insult that we are compelled by force of law and threat of confiscation to pay taxes on our incomes and property to fund what many think is the overreaching and self-centered industry of government bureaucracy. While many in government will claim that the establishment and perpetuation of laws, policies and rules promote efficient growth, public safety and proper land use, the truth is, local government hirelings dictate your existence under the guise of codified governance.
For example, if a local government seeks to promote controlled commercial growth through zoning laws, it is exhibiting a form of top-down governance frequently seen in cultures perceived to be totalitarian in their conduct. Or if local governments require adherence to ordinances supposedly enacted to promote public safety, then compliance to these ordinances must be achieved by policy enforcers. Indeed, many police departments exist for the core purpose of "policy enforcement," not necessarily "law enforcement".
In the realm of land use, there are so many restrictions on an individual’s right to reasonably use their property as they see fit that we could say landowners are allowed to maintain documented legal possession of their land, but basically have had their land taken by bureaucratic fiat without just compensation. In effect, landowners are in a subservient relationship to the bureaucracy. I guess the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment isn’t what it used to be.
There are many reasons we’ve arrived at this point in our local history. Part of the blame is the reliance of elected council and commission members and hired managers and staff attorneys who, consciously or not, stand to benefit from the complexity and management attributes of sweeping and overly broad ordinances and regulations. Indeed, there is a perception that municipal managers are compensated on the basis of a city or county’s total tax revenues and expenditures, which is in direct correlation to the complexity and intricacy of its ordinances and regulations, and the required staff to enforce them.
Many of the individuals elected to councils and commissions are clueless as to the operation of government and are completely reliant on bureaucratic hirelings to keep them informed. There is yet another perception that hirelings will "fudge the numbers" or otherwise obfuscate the budget needs and necessity of their position in order to maintain their job security.
There are many programs and agencies, with their attendant policies and employees, which are going to be either scaled back in focus and expense or eliminated entirely from existence. The key will be in electing council and commission members who are not enamored with government, who are not handicapped by education, experience, or entitlement in government, but who have the understanding that the purpose of government is not to build grand buildings as monuments to themselves, but to enable citizens to fully utilize their industrious, creative and entrepreneurial natures. We cannot allow bureaucracy to maintain its stranglehold on our lives and fortunes.
It has been said that taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society. While there are numerous benefits to the use of taxes, we might just as easily say that taxes — and the accompanying laws, ordinances, rules and regulations — are the punishment we bear for striving to be productive, industrious and self-sufficient.
J. Wayne Collingsworth