You Get What You Pay For

Posted by JM Ashby

When I was young, I was taught that you get what you pay for. That is to say, if you want a good or service that is of sufficient quality you have to pay for it. As Bill Maher said on Friday night, if you're paying less than a dollar for a taco, you can't act surprised if it isn't made of real meat.

The same lesson applies to infrastructure and social services. If you want clean parks, quality education, roads without potholes, adequate sanitation, and drinkable water you have to pay for it. And despite all of the hooping and hollering from "fiscal conservatives" about welfare queens and lazy 99ers, they sure don't seem to want to pay for anything themselves. Tax increases, no matter how modest they may be, are completely off the table even if it is exactly what the doctor ordered.

In the case of the people of Nassau County in New York, they got exactly what they paid for. Or perhaps I should they got what they voted for.

MINEOLA, New York (Reuters) – At his January 2010 inauguration, Tea Party-backed Republican Edward Mangano marched up to the podium, pen in hand. Even before being officially declared Nassau County Executive, he signed a repeal of an unpopular home energy tax.

More after the jump...

The home energy tax, which Mangano ran against on a platform of repeal, cost the majority of residents $7.27 per month. A very modest amount, but an amount that was just too high for many people who claim to have been "taxed enough" already.

"This is very cool and quite an honor," Mangano said as he gave his admirers a thumbs-up.The fiscal consequences, however, were anything but cool. The repeal set Mangano on an immediate collision course with the state-appointed fiscal overseer, the Nassau County Interim Financial Authority, or NIFA. It culminated in NIFA seizing control of the wealthy New York county's finances on Wednesday.

Nassau County could possibly be viewed as a microcosm of America. It has the highest concentration of wealthy neighborhoods and a median income twice that of the rest of the nation. Yet despite those attributes, they feel like they have been "taxed enough." Too much in fact, to be able to afford the miniscule home energy tax.The budgetary problems of Nassau County began long before Edward Mangano took office, but he ran on a platform of "Tax Revolt" in the middle of budget shortfalls and just enough voters bought into it to give him the reigns.

His struggle began almost the minute he repealed the energy tax. "I'm not sure that (Mangano) understood the magnitude of the fiscal problems that he faced and he had promises from the campaign that he had to keep," said Lawrence Levy, a dean at Hofstra University and a former member of the editorial board at Long Island daily Newsday.Eliminating the energy tax "blew a bigger hole in his budget and added to the problem with really no plan to replace the revenue," he said

After Mangano was in office, tax cuts along with the laying off of some 400 county employees combined with shoddy accounting and no realistic plans for filling the budget gaps caused the financial authority to assume control. I recommend reading the full report here.If the Republicans in congress have their way, the entire country will resemble Nassau County.