Beware the call for “stable funding.” Demand “stable spending” instead.

by David Grappo

What is “stable funding.” It’s a term designed to suggest everything that is bedrock about America. It reminds you of stable families, or stable marriages, or stable government. Stable and stability are terms we like to apply to our social institutions. They soothe us and suggest permanence and long held values.

Unfortunately, like all physical things, even language gets corrupted. More and more frequently these days you hear local government and school officials calling for “stable funding.” The term sounds soothing and comfortable. Is there mischief lurking within it?
You bet there is! Government officials often invent cute code words and phrases to obfuscate their meaning. The term “stable funding” is one of their latest. It does not mean that government funding will stay stable or fixed. It really means that government funding will steadily increase, no matter what conditions are going on in the rest of the economy. So if the general economy is going downhill, “stable funding” means that government budgets will continue to rise as they always do! “Stable funding” means that government budgets do not “share the pain” which the taxpayers may be suffering. In fact, it means that additional pain must be inflicted on the taxpayers in bad economic times so that government budgets won’t suffer. In its purest form, “stable funding” means that neither the local government nor school officials will have to ask the voters/taxpayers for permission to raise taxes. Why bother to let taxpayers ask pesky questions about budgets?

The major obstacle to achieving “stable funding” is Oregon’s voter imposed strict property tax limitation. California’s famous Proposition 13 had a similar effect there. Prior to adoption of these measures there was no need for stable funding. If local governments wanted more revenue, the local county officials could just increase the property tax rate. Taxpayers weren’t asked for their opinion. Property tax limitations changed all that. They put a cap on property taxes. Now property tax increases beyond the cap require a vote of the people. And the people frequently say NO to increased taxes.

In response, local government and school officials invented the concept of “stable funding.” It is their attempt to go back to the good old days before property tax limitations. They don’t want their sacred budgets stymied by downturns in the economy. They don’t care if the taxpayers are suffering because of economic downturns. They especially don’t want to be required to ask the voters for permission to increase taxes. They also don’t care if the taxes they levy are on sales, real property, or income. They will be happy to live with any of those just so long as they can increase the tax without voter approval. That’s what “stable funding” really means.

Taxpayer groups have also responded with a variety of measures designed to limit the growth of government spending. Although taxpayer groups have never adopted the term, their efforts could properly be called a demand for “stable spending” as opposed to government officials who call for “stable funding.”

The next time you hear local government or school officials talking about “stable funding,” just remember that they have no intention of keeping anything stable. They really want constantly increasing tax revenues regardless of whatever is happening to you. That’s what “stable funding” is all about. Instead, insist on “stable spending.” That’s a concept taxpayers can live with.

Author: David Grappo, a resident of Corvallis, Oregon