For years, fiscal conservatives have focused like a laser on the national debt and deficit. That’s certainly an understandable approach, as it’s where overspending by government in this country is most glaringly obvious.

Unlike the federal government, nearly every state in the country is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget, so governors from both parties tend to be more fiscally prudent than their counterparts in Congress. Unfortunately, this hyper-focus on federal spending by fiscal conservatives tends to run into a major roadblock when reality comes calling: Hardly any elected official in either party actually wants to ever cut any spending. Instead, they disagree only about how much new debt to create and where the money should go. We saw this dynamic clearly at play in Washington, when Republicans were willing to go on their own spending spree when Donald Trump was president, only to turn around and pretend to be concerned about fiscal responsibility the second Joe Biden won.

In the aftermath of the stimulus package being passed along a party-line vote, though, the fight shouldn’t be over for fiscal conservatives all over the country. Rather, they should look to the environmental movement for a bit of inspiration: for years, those activists have encouraged their supporters to think globally, but act locally. That mantra should have special appeal to fiscal conservatives as the infusion of cash from the stimulus package begins to make its way not just to the states, but also to local governments all over Maine – and the nation – as well. This is an excellent opportunity for fiscal conservatives to engage locally, keeping an eye on how the federal funds are spent in their own community.

Local elected officials all over the state are, no doubt, hoping that this won’t happen. It’s all too easy for voters to overlook them, even though the people on your local city council or school board often has much greater impact on your day-to-day life than the current occupant of the White House. They’re the ones who decide how high your property taxes are, for instance, and that’s one of the major taxes paid by nearly every homeowner and business owner in the country. Local governments are about to see the largest infusion of cash from the federal government in a generation or more, and that’s something to remember the next time they try to raise property taxes.

Indeed, it would be nice to think that these federal stimulus funds would forestall any major tax hikes at any level of government, but we all know that’s unlikely to be the case. In Augusta, Democrats have proposed a number of totally unnecessary tax increases despite the federal stimulus spending and subsequent state budget surplus. Touted by their proponents as efforts to even the fiscal playing field, they are tax hikes, no matter what you call them. Even if they are unlikely to be enacted into law, it shows that no matter the circumstances, liberals are always willing to raise taxes – just as most elected officials are always happy to spend money.

By thinking globally and acting locally, fiscal conservatives can have a true impact once again on policy. It’s far easier for activists to have a major impact on the local level than it is in Augusta or Washington, D.C. For one, local spending numbers are smaller and easier for most people to comprehend than the massive figures reflected in even the state budget, let alone the unfathomably huge federal debt. Right now, the national debt stands at roughly $28 trillion. Numbers that large literally boggle the mind, and so people simply tune them out. That’s convenient for politicians, since it lets them continue to spend recklessly forever.

At the local level, things come more sharply into focus: If $28 trillion doesn’t mean much, a 2 percent property tax hike is far more easily understood. That’s much easier to convert into fewer meals out for you and your family, or gallons of gas, or trips to the movies (if theaters ever reopen, that is). That’s a more direct, personal impact, and it’s an excellent way for fiscal conservatives to show the general public the cost of runaway government spending. It’s a far better approach than throwing out numbers so large that everybody, included elected officials, can easily ignore them. If fiscal conservatives do this enough times, in enough places, all over the country, those sentiments may well trickle upward to the highest levels of government, just as they did with environmentalism.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel


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