Eyes glaze over. The mention of local government produces a change in subject, a sudden urge to clean out cupboards or the desire to run to the nearest dentist.
Yet, it is at the county and city or municipal level where all human services are delivered.
Despite creeping back-door privatization, where non-profits provide senior care, child care, education and training, community celebrations, housing, etc., the truth is police, fire, emergency medical services, building safety, parks and playgrounds – to name a few – fall within the domain of local government. Even the trees that line a block, or whether or not there will be trees on a street, are all local government turf.
The truth is that local government provides more service with dramatically less money than any major corporation. Local politicians are closer to the people than members of the state government or federal government. When was the last time you saw your congressional representative in church, temple or mosque or shopping for groceries?
Headline-making decisions like war and peace are federal. Health care and education are primarily state jobs. But the meaning of war or peace, health care and education are all local, very local.
The Bush administration’s Iraq war, massive corporate tax cuts and the so-called “jobless recovery” hit the streets in cities, towns, rural communities and suburbs like a hurricane. The impact is personal, felt in your home or next door.
This November, at the local level, voters will have an opportunity to speak their mind on the course of the country as well as their neighborhood. Here’s an example. Whether or not schools stay open depends on state and federal subsidies. Victories for candidates who support quality public education, rejecting the Republican three-legged stool of voucher, privatization and charter, sends a message that the people demand quality public schools and the money that it takes to run them.
All local government costs, from police to school crossing guards to picking up the trash, take huge bites out of a local budget. The Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have slashed the flow of taxpayers’ dollars back to their communities to keep the street lights on and the garbage picked up.
Bush & Co. are too concerned with making billionaires out of millionaires to worry about whether or not there are school crossing guards on four-lane highways or police on the beat. So we have the reality of tax shifting, where the burden ends up on local property taxes. It is not only not fair but dumb for employees of Mellon Bank to pay more taxes than the owners of Mellon Bank or Alcoa Aluminum.
Improving our quality of life requires voting in local elections and seeking local office, neighborhood by neighborhood. Focusing the people’s anger to raise the standard of living begins in local government.
This November, vote as if Bush were on the ballot. Vote as if returning loved ones home safe from Iraq were on the ballot. Vote as if neighborhood blight were on the ballot. Vote as if schools were on the ballot. Vote as if decent jobs were on the ballot. Vote as if culture and recreation were on the ballot, and vote as if a healthy natural environment were on the ballot. Because they are.
Denise Winebrenner Edwards is a member of the Wilkinsburg, Penn., Borough Council, and a member of the Editorial Board of the People’s Weekly World.
She can be reached at DWinebr696@aol.com