Friday, October 21, 2005

Federalism at Work

From the Spokesman Review:

Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk endorsed a plan... to raise $6.5 million a year for mental health services by increasing the local sales tax by 0.1 percentage points.

Sterk... went so far as to say that he would urge Spokane County commissioners to enact the tax even if the Nov. 8 advisory vote fails to pass public muster.

"We have no other resources to plug these people into, and that's just flat wrong," Sterk said of the current situation.

Proposition 2 asks voters if they want the tax – 10 cents on every $100 purchase – for the next three years.

Commissioners don't need voter approval, however, to raise the tax. State law allows the county to raise the tax to fund mental health and substance-abuse treatment.

Mental health providers say the tax money is necessary to help fill an estimated $7.5 million shortfall in mental health care funding caused in part by fewer federal Medicaid dollars.

This is the kind of local government responsibility that the Anti-Giuliani made us yearn for.
(S-R) "As we've been working with the state to point out the financial dilemma we're in, one of their first comments is, 'Why don't you take advantage of the authority the Legislature has already given you?' " said Commissioner Todd Mielke.
And so they did, mostly. There's even a "Yes for mental health" campaign that gives more details, but raises some important questions.

Spokane County Commissioners... are considering a small (1/10 of one percent), temporary (three years) sales tax to be used exclusively for mental health programs.

These local dollars will stay in Spokane County and be used to offset recent large cuts in Federal mental health funding.

Two questions need to be answered though:

  1. Why are there mental health funding cuts? If they are simple spending reductions that can be tied to tax cuts, this is a perfect example of federalism at work. When federal tax cuts are followed by federal spending cuts that affect local services, it is entirely appropriate for local governments to raise local taxes to make up the difference (assuming, of course, that the spending was appropriate in the first place). That way local services are locally controlled - and it also works against the gimme-pork mentality of so many Americans (including 82 U.S. Senators).

  2. Why make it temporary? If mental health funding is so crucial, shouldn't it's funding source have more permanence? Will all be cured in 3 years or will you be seeking a state or federal bail-out again? How about standing up, being an example, and saying that Spokane County can take care of it's own.
The federal government does not exist to remedy every imaginable problem and couldn't do it if it tried. Let's have more local governments follow the example of these three Republican county commissioners and solve problems instead of whining about them.

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