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Commentary: Less Government Means More Prosperity

By Anthony Ogorek

Buffalo, NY – There has been a great upheaval in Erie County government concerning this year's $118 million budget gap and how it will be closed. The County Comptroller has resigned, the Sheriff, the County Executive and half of the County Legislature is declining to run again. As a state imposed fiscal control board is looking more likely, now may be a good time to examine what we as taxpayers should be asking of our elected officials.

The conventional wisdom, "don't raise our taxes because we already pay enough," is as usual, wrong. As a matter of fact, asking for lower taxes got us into this mess in the first place. Crazy as it sounds; our county politicians have done exactly what we have asked of them. They have all been elected as well as reelected on a "hold the line on taxes" platform. The county executive was restored to office with a 30% property tax reduction.

Where it all went wrong is that we as citizens were asking for the wrong thing, and our politicians were all too willing to comply with our wishes. What we should have been asking for is less government. High taxes are a symptom of excessive government. If any governmental entity wants to hold the line on taxes it has to either reduce its size, grow its tax base, or effect efficiencies which allow it to deliver services in a more cost effective fashion.

Without being willing to accomplish one of these three outcomes, shrinking government, being more efficient or getting more people to move here, lowering taxes is just a pipe dream. Unless the next crop of political hopefuls understand these facts, we as a community are setting ourselves up for another disappointment. This is a compelling reason why we do not, or should not need a control board. It is pretty obvious what we need to do to right the ship of county government.

Based on the fact that our region has lost population for each of the past ten years, the idea of plugging our budget gaps by expanding the tax base is pretty remote. High property taxes will depress the appreciation potential of our assessed property base, so the odds of a quick bailout from a housing bubble in Erie County are similarly bleak.

That leaves us with either shrinking the size of government, or running a more efficient operation. These two options are particularly tough choices for politicians for a couple of reasons. First, reducing the size of government reduces the influence a politician has over the citizenry. People tend not to run for office to gain less power. Second, it is difficult for the average politician to get their arms around the concept of greater efficiency since most of them have never run a business, have never had to compete for customers, or make mid-course adjustments due to market forces.

The point here is that we are kidding ourselves if we think that our politicians, either the existing ones or the crop of newbie's, are going to embrace smaller government or greater efficiency in government without a lot of encouragement and constant pressure from their constituents.

It is axiomatic that politicians will usually do what we ask of them. Just look at the revolt over the proposed 1% increase in the County sales tax. County politicians felt the heat of an aroused citizenry and acted accordingly. If we as a community hope to achieve a more moderate level of taxation, we now know that relief can only come from smaller government or greater efficiencies.

Any candidate who has the audacity to run on a platform of holding the line on taxes but does not embrace smaller government or greater efficiency should be run out of town on a rail. This community can no longer survive on platitudes; we need concrete proposals for reigning in the scope of local government. In order to rescue our community's future, we all must embrace the counsel of our 3rd US president, Thomas Jefferson: "Government is best that governs least."

"The Ogorek Letter" with Commentator Anthony Ogorek is a monthly feature of WBFO News.