Over the past 25 years, the Federal government has been systematically pushing service provision to the state level, funding less and less of the services we demand. The states, in turn, have increasingly pushed the responsibility of government provision to the local level. Basic services are funded increasingly by local revenues alone.
Conversely, residents in many states, including Texas, have pushed hard against tax increases. Most recently the Texas Legislature cut school property taxes by one-third in response to growing pressure from constituents across the state complaining about their tax bills.
These opposing realities are putting the squeeze on local government resources. While arguably creating a leaner, more efficient government entity, the fact is that services demanded are quickly outpacing revenues. Local governments have a responsibility to provide the most basic necessities for commerce and social welfare. Roads. Bridges. Drainage and flood control. Public schools. Public safety and fire fighters. But more and more, local governments are being asked to provide other services such as affordable housing, and purchase open space for preservation. They are expected to provide indigent care and shelter for the abjectly poor. In essence, the people expect the government to provide all sorts of services, but are unwilling to pay for them. There has to be another solution.
There are armies of people who would gladly volunteer a small portion of their time for the comforts they actively enjoy. For example, consider if the City of Austin decided to redirect resources to fully fund road maintenance (instead of pushing off the maintenance for future taxpayers to pay 4-10 times the cost to reconstruct the failing road system), and stopped maintaining the beautiful park system along Lady Bird Lake known as the Hike and Bike Trail. Legions of faithful users of the trail would gladly sign up to maintain it themselves rather than watch it dwindle in disarray. With only 120 faithful volunteers, each willing to donate 3 days per year, the trail could have maintenance every day of the year.
There are other examples of services people would gladly volunteer to deliver if possible. We have doctors and nurses that take two weeks away from their practices to fly around the world and practice medicine, why couldn’t they volunteer one afternoon a month to serve for free in local clinics? We have retired government social workers with great pensions and plenty of time on their hands; why couldn’t they volunteer a day a month to help the poor register for available services? And with the growing retired population of baby boomers, why can’t more volunteers help keep public libraries open?
With all these services provided by volunteer labor, the local government would spend less on personnel and be able to dedicate more of their resources to the actual provision of services. In essence, they could make each dollar go further. It is just an idea, but one I think has some value. There was a time when we as a people relied less on Government and more on each other. Because, in the end, the American system imagines that the people are the government. Maybe we should start taking responsibility for each other. Just a thought.