Let’s review a few things about this 2 percent tax cap. Maybe people are tired of hearing about it. Certainly, few turned up to protest Woodstock’s legal, by way of local law, exceeding of the limit by triple. Possibly this was because cutting it to the cap limits could only have come by eliminating items that people who showed up clearly wanted to keep — the Woodstock emergency dispatch system, Town Hall, health insurance for elected officials. And that may be because, on a very personal level, we know that the loss of those items costs us as a community. We know the people in the dispatch department who would lose their jobs, we understand that the service they provide is more than merely directing traffic in emergencies. We’re more than aware that those who get health insurance, the town justices and town board members, get little else for what can be, if done properly, jobs that are essential and demanding. It’s as a community that we choose to keep a building like Town Hall rather than sell it so we can build something cheaper. Maybe we’re impractical, not frugal enough. But there’s always next year, and once identified as likely targets, these items remain in the cross hairs.
But for us, the point of the tax cap has been severely misconstrued. Too many people, and that includes, we believe, those who instituted it, from the governor on down through the state legislature, look on it as a way to make sure that taxes aren’t too high, don’t run out of control. But that’s wrong. If that were so, where then is the tax cap on income? The rollback of sales taxes? The pinch on fees for services everywhere? You don’t see the state cutting those, because that’s were it gets its own revenue. The property taxes fund local things, towns and schools.
The true reason for the 2 percent tax cap is to curb the incessant rise of property taxes, to make it so that people’s homes, often their largest investment, are not put in jeopardy should they become or remain cash poor. That’s the onerous part of the system. Government, especially local government, should not be in the business of taking its citizens’ homes.
The imposition of a tax cap, to be really true to its objectives, should not be accompanied by decreases in state aid for school funding and cuts in infrastructure. Those funds for essential services must be raised by the state, in a method that establishes greater fairness for taxpayers, spread across the board, and not handled solely by property owners, home owners. We know that when school funds are cut, the same people we know, the same folks whose jobs were saved when we refused to cut the budget for dispatch, are the ones who will lose their jobs in the schools, and effectively diminish the quality of the education of our children. And our community suffers for it every time.
The tax cap is not to cut, or maintain, your taxes. Its purpose is to shift the burden off of that which we cannot afford to lose, and to establish greater fairness in assembling the funds to run our society. If it were looked at that way by the larger political entities, schools and municipalities would receive the necessary funding to maintain services and meet state mandates. But the funding would still come out of our pockets. It always has to, if you believe that it is our society’s job to education our children.
And if you believe that cutting taxes overall is necessary, then appeal to your representatives to look at the whole spectrum, instead of strangling our essential local infrastructure and institutions by dumping the burden on home owners. ++