Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

5 Things our elected local and state officials could do...

In my last posting I kinda, sorta, well maybe complained just a little bit.  Rightfully so I might add, as there is much to complain about in these parts.  That did get me thinking though about what we, the residents of NEPA, should be doing right now to make this a better place for ourselves and our communities.  One thing that immediately comes to mind is holding our elected officials accountable for their actions.   So as a result, here are some thoughts, not necessarily listed in order of importance, about what I think our elected officials could be doing to improve the economy of NEPA.
  1. End party line voting.  Party line voting, in my mind, actually encourages an ignorant electorate, which is ultimately responsible for some of what harms this area.  It's the same as giving your vote to someone else (in this case, that would be the "smoke filled back room" political bosses).  This practice needs to end. Voters need to make decisions about candidates, not political parties.  They need to make individual choices for elected offices, not sweeping stimulus-response actions initiated by political hacks.  
  2. Eliminate the ability to governments to tax gross receipts (and other abusive business taxes).  As I noted yesterday, gross receipts taxation is punitive for private sector businesses.  Ditto for any and every other form of business operations taxation that isn't tied to actual profitability.  Yes, businesses should certainly be paying things like property taxes, but places like Scranton have tax structures that basically exist to harm the very businesses that they should be, in theory, wanting to attract.  Gee, do you think that maybe this has had some impact on our abysmal unemployment rate?
  3. Re-assess property values on a regular basis.  Our systems for taxing real estate are designed to hinder initiative and new home ownership.  They are also designed to create work for lawyers through almost automatic appeals of property taxation.  It's time to end the charade.  The reality is that the current system (in Lackawanna County, especially) helps the well off, encourages the status quo, facilitates the hiding of properties from the tax rolls and hurts the middle class.  Enough already.  There should be systematic property re-assessment every twenty years or so.  
  4. Make the concept of "ability to pay" a real, actual, tangible factor in municipal union arbitration & court awards.  Taxpayers do not have an unlimited supply of money for municipal employee salaries and benefits, yet labor arbitrators (and courts) routinely don't seem to care about an government's actual ability to pay for the awards they decree.  Unrealistic awards strangle the budgets of local governments and make bad situations, such as what is happening in Scranton, even worse.  This leads to more oppressive taxes that ultimately harms the local economy.  A viscous cycle for sure, and another example of insanity at it's finest.  Sorry Scranton firefighters and policemen, but in as much as a court said you should get $21 million...and maybe you were cheated out of some back pay...the reality is that there simply isn't $21 million dollars laying around in Scranton to give you.  Period.
  5. Develop a simple and standardized economic development scorecard for local governments.  Let's have our decision makers come up with a scorecard that actually lists economic development factors (types and rates of taxation, infrastructure considerations, land available for development, education rates, etc.) and then have an organization like Pennsylvania's office of Community and Economic Development rate governments accordingly.  Create data for voters to actually evaluate when they make decisions about who to vote for and why.  NEPA has had tons of politicians tout their economic development prowess to voters but yet, still, we have (arguably) the worst economy in Pennsylvania.  Anyone else here see the disconnect?  Time to shed the light of reality into the dark corners of political boasting. 

Small steps, for sure, but still infinitely achievable.

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