by D.J. McGuire
Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, by and large, aren’t thinking about property taxes – and for good reason. The recent spate of visible abuses of power by local police forces has made it clear that a serious rethink is in order regarding local “public safety.” Whether one prefers Reform, Defund, or Abolish as the rallying cry, the BLM movement clearly wants smaller, less powerful, and less intrusive police departments with fewer responsibilities.
If they (or we, if they don’t mind my admittedly late arrival to the cause) can also show this means a less expensive police, then possibilities open for new coalitions that could scramble local politics across the nation.
Of course, BLM is at present focused on reorienting local government responses to non-violent local issues away from cops and toward other local agencies – again, for very good reason. That, by itself, would not necessarily free up funds to be returned to homeowners and (indirectly) renters. However, smaller police departments also mean less powerful police unions, which would rebalance the relationship between local elected legislatures (councils and boards) and police forces in favor of the former. This could make it easier for them – and their constituents – to push for further efficiencies in local police.
Additionally, smaller police forces can mean an end to the various diseconomies of scale that come from any organization that grows beyond its most efficient point. While I have not seen particular data on this one, it’s pretty clear to me that local police forces who feel empowered to abuse the people they’re supposed to protect are likely empowered to be far less cost-efficient than they could be, and should be. Of course, that leads to an additional potential reason that smaller and less abusive police forces can also save the taxpayer money: fewer court cases and legal fees.
Why am I focusing on this matter? I have two reasons. First, there was a time when I was deeply enmeshed in local political matters of Spotsylvania County. Every budget cycle, I attempted to comb the county spending plan to find efficiencies and priority changes that could either prevent increases in property taxes or lead to a reduction in them. I had two rules that governed my endeavors: avoid cuts to education whenever I could (especially instruction), and never touch Public Safety. Next budget cycle in my current hometown, I need not be held back by the latter.
More to the point for the movement, I am hoping they (or, again, we, if they’ll take me) can see the potential for political allies in an unexpected place on the political spectrum. I still believe – perhaps naively in the current era, but I’m holding to it – that a large number of center-right voters are genuine about wanting government to be less intrusive and less costly, including local government. Many of those for whom police brutality is still an abstract concept would still be willing to address the matter if it also means lower property taxes. Meanwhile, citizens for whom lowering property taxes is a priority are sure to be more likely to look at police funding now. Indeed, you are reading the musings of one of them right now.
These are not matters that will be linked together in the 2020 campaign, but rather in city council buildings and county courthouses over the next several years. That said, if supporters of police reduction and tax reduction can recognize our common interests, we can build a political force that can transform local government for the better across America.