Robbing Yourself at Gunpoint

It really is odd to see some “less government” Republicans voting to protect more government and more expensive government, even if it is at the local level. Big government wasting tax dollars is big government wasting tax dollars, whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Shelby County or Nashville.

There’s a scene in an old 70’s Mel Brooks Western movie in which a man, about to be lynched by a mob, pulls his pistol from his holster, holds it up to his own head and starts saying to the mob, “Don’t move, or I’ll shoot him.” The mob freezes in its tracks, saying, “I think he’s serious.” Well, when it comes to taxes, some local governments are essentially doing the same thing. It’s like they rob themselves at gunpoint and then run to the state complaining that the state needs to do something about the crime rate.

For example, last week Metro Nashville schools were complaining about the need for more money and that the state needed to help more. And just yesterday Metro Nashville government was saying it was going to have to shift more costs onto its employees because of a lack of money. Maybe Metro Nashville would have more money for its schools and employees and would not be running to the statehouse asking for money if they weren’t spending money that they didn’t have to spend, but have forced themselves to spend. I don’t know if the Shelby County school system needs more money, but if they do, as most schools systems seem to do, then they are doing the same thing to themselves.

Here’s the deal, and local taxpayers ought to be furious. You see, these two governments have imposed on themselves a requirement that contractors whom they hire to do construction work have to charge the government more than what that contractor might be charging if the same work were done for another private businesses. Yes, you read that correctly.

Self-Imposed Funding Shortages

For example, I recently got a call from a contractor who, when doing certain jobs for private sector clients, pays one classification of his employees $27/hour in wages and benefits. So, if that contractor did a job for a private sector client, he’d have to cover $27 for each hour his employee worked. But when that contractor does a job for one of these local governments (city name withheld to protect the contractor from local retribution), he told me he has to pay that employee $42/hour in wages and benefits. That’s the cost he now has to charge that local government. That’s a 56% increase in labor costs being charged to local government. So, if labor is about half the cost of a construction job, which is perhaps a good rule of thumb, then that local government is making its taxpayers pay 28% more than it would otherwise have to pay!

Now, you could say, why would they do that to their local taxpayers? Good question.

Well, the reason could be that organized labor has more influence over local governments in urban areas like Memphis and Nashville because they tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their local government councils and commissions. Labor unions tend to fight for higher minimum wage laws over market-based wages. So, those local governments can be an ally for labor unions if they can’t get state minimum wage requirements on a statewide basis through a Republican-dominated statehouse. It would make sense that they would want to preserve their ability to run to the local courthouse to get what they want. In other words, unions and the city officials who court their votes and campaign money might want to preserve the right to do the “end run” around state government.

If that’s the case, then it may also explain a rumor I heard this week. Don’t know how true it is, but word is that labor union representatives (including maybe the Tennessee Education Association) are meeting regularly with at least some of the cities’ representatives/lobbyists. I don’t know if all cities are involved or just some of the larger cities, but if it’s true, it’s very telling and something local taxpayers should know. I doubt anyone is truly representing taxpayers in those meetings.

Who Will Represent You?

However, state legislators themselves can represent you on this issue, and well they should if locals are going to complain to them that they need more state money. Why should the state give local governments more of your state tax dollars if those local governments are voting to make themselves pay more for services?

So you ask, “How can my state Representative represent me when it comes to the size of my local tax bill?” Easy. Your state representative can vote for Senate Bill 630/House Bill 598. That bill would prevent local governments from imposing on private businesses requirements that they have to pay certain “minimum wages” over and above what is required by state or federal law. And it would also repeal any locally mandated minimum wage laws that are already on the books. In other words, keeping with my introductory analogy, the state can make local governments put down the gun they are holding against their own head.

Sadly, that bill has run into some trouble in the state legislature, the House in particular. The reason is that some local governments are pushing back on their state Representatives, apparently asking them not to wipe out the higher costs they’ve mandated on themselves.

‘Local’ Big Government Is Still Big Government

Sadly, some Republican legislators may have put the bill in jeopardy with a vote last week in the House Commerce Subcommittee. The purported reason for voting against the bill is because some think the state should never tell a local government what to do. Others may think that the government closest to the people should have free reign to do what it wants for its citizens. Those may be good general rules to be considered, but when that local government is wasting local tax dollars and then turning around and wanting more state tax dollars, I submit that the state government does have an interest in repealing these self-imposed funding shortages.

In essence some legislators seem to be unwilling to take away the gun these local governments are holding against their own heads while listening to them complain about the crime rate, in other words, their need for more money. When the House Commerce Subcommittee votes on this bill again next Wednesday, we can hope the majority of the Subcommittee members get it right this time.

It really is odd to see some “less government” Republicans voting to protect more government and more expensive government, even if it is at the local level. Big government wasting tax dollars is big government wasting tax dollars, whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Shelby County or Nashville.

You know, if this story were in a Mel Brook’s movie, it might be funny. But it’s not funny when it’s for real and it’s my tax dollars and yours that are being spent.