What is the answer? The usual dissembling. The usual talk about cutting local costs of government to the bone. The usual BS, only this time taxpayers are outraged, and therefore local politics are becoming volatile.
For decades Republicans and Democrats alike have gotten away with anti-tax baloney while doing nothing to reduce taxes. They have known all along that reductions in local property taxes, particularly in states like New York where they`re astronomical, mean firing somebody`s cousin, curtailing patronage. And that means curtailing their own political leverage.
But even if taxpayers succeed in getting the attention of local officials instead of the usual we-feel-your-pain-but routine, there remains the submerged problem of developers across the nation having corrupted government at every level, pouring concrete where it should never have been poured, building unsustainable housing, endangering water quality, and obtaining variances and zoning permissions with money under the table.
Unless this larger picture is spread out in front of the public the public will continue to buy the snake-oil notion that all development is good and creates jobs and relieves local taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. We should never have hitched our economy to such a sick horse. Unsustainable development puts too much of a strain on local government and almost never provides the tax base required for the services it demands.
The jobs vanish with the developer, but the problems remain behind to haunt communities that foolishly allowed inappropriate development simply because they thought development is always good. They also thought property owners have a right to do anything they want with their properties even when it endangers the public good and strains local resources to the breaking point.
Our populations and our job markets have been gravitating to urban areas, and yet we persist in the cheap-fuel fallacy that suburban and exurban overdevelopment is good. Good for whom? Predatory builders and lenders? We persist in the fallacy, foisted on us by politicians in both parties, that an ownership society is an inalienable right and that we are all entitled to own McMansions we can`t afford, to demand services our communities can`t afford, and to endanger the environment.
We have been encouraged by politicians "who have been bought off by developers and lenders "to squander our country`s resources and to take what we can get and ignore the next guy and his problems and his needs. Unaffordable, punitive local property taxes are the logical result of this kind of selfishness.
So it isn`t enough for property owners to bang the tax assessor`s table, and it isn`t enough for local officials to feel our pain. Patronage has to be reexamined at every level. Duplication of services by towns, counties and states must be reexamined and restructured. And, finally, we must question an ownership society that flies in the face of an evolving economy that is concentrating in urban areas. We must diversify the job market instead of depending on developers, weapons-makers and insurers.
A tax revolt, like the silly tea parties that were in vogue a few months ago, is an exercise not only in futility but in dissembling, because the real problems were created by all of us when we acquiesced to predatory and unsustainable development.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller`s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.