Personal Finance, Saving Money, Taxes

Get Politically Active to Save Money

My state, like so many others, is awfully short on money these days. There have been budget cuts and tax increases in an effort to make up the shortfall. However, some of these cuts have threatened my bottom line more than others and forced me to become politically active to save my money.

Most recently, my county has threatened to shut down our local library branch. While this may not seem catastrophic, to an avid reader and someone who depends on the library for her research needs, this is a very big deal. If that branch closes it will mean an extra fifteen to twenty mile trip for me to get to the next closest library. With gas prices rising, that isn’t feasible for the long term. Neither is it feasible for me to purchase every book that I need. Even used prices are much more than the “free” price at the library.

So I have joined the voices of thousands of others in my community to save the library. While my one voice may not save it, mine added in with thousands of others just might. Many others in my community will face the same economic burden as I will if that library closes and many of them cannot afford it. While I might be able to get by with other sources and products, many others cannot. It’s not about saving the library or making some stand about literacy as much as it is about saving our money.

A similar situation occurred last year when the county wanted to add a new tax for pets. Several thousand of us rallied against it and prevented it from passing. We were able to keep that money in our pockets. Situations like this are happening all over the country. Counties and states are cutting services and increasing taxes. If they cut a library, you have to pay to get your books some other way. If they cut a transportation service, you have to pay for an alternative, either in cost of fuel or in the cost of getting a car of your own. If they cut a medical clinic, you have to pay a higher price for private medical care or you have to travel to another site further away. If they increase taxes, you have to pay it. And the list goes on. It all ends up coming out of your pocket and costing you money that you may not have.

Your only choice as a consumer and a citizen is to make your voice heard. Write to your local, state, and federal representatives. The Internet makes it easy to find the right people to contact about your issue and to send them an email. Take the time to show up at a board of commissioners meeting and give your opinion, or at least be counted as a person registering dissent. Organize an online petition on a site like Facebook, gather the signatures and present it to your representatives. Take your case to the local or state papers and news media. If they report on your story, the word gets out to even more people who can rally against the cuts. Success isn’t guaranteed because the government will do what it has to do, but when your money is at stake it’s worth a try.

I understand that state and local governments are cash strapped these days. I get it. But just because I understand doesn’t mean I have to take service cuts and tax increases lying down, either. I think that as a country we’ve forgotten how to make a stink. We’ve gotten used to tax increases and cuts and we’re more apt to just suck it up and take it. But it’s my right to make a stink. I can lobby my representatives to find the money elsewhere (start with simple government waste, please). I can attend public meetings and make my anger and frustration known. I can make sure that our wealthy representatives understand what those cuts and increases mean to those who are strapped for cash right now. I can make it known that I will not vote for those who cut services. It may or may not work, but if I want to keep more of my money in my pocket, it’s the only choice I have.

13 thoughts on “Get Politically Active to Save Money

  1. Very good article. People often should get involved, especially in local politics and government where they can. Whether it is through a city council meeting or letters to the editor at your local paper, it is generally not hard to get yourself heard.

    My wife is from outside the USA, and she is often amazed how many people do not exercise their basic right to vote.

  2. Great points!

    We live in a very involved community with lots of lawyers and educators. When it was clear the school board was completely inept, our community started a public charter school. Our kids will have the BEST K-5 education for pennies – which is what every citizen deserves. Most people aren’t fighting for their rights for a good education. I wouldn’t have known where to begin, and am grateful for the knowledge and hard work of so many of our neighbors. We helped where we could – and this guaranteed spots in the school for our kids.

    OF course, what was political BS a decade ago is now complete financial ruin for the rest of the school district. This year our school has shined more than any other year, as we have retained small class sizes and extra-curriculars (we control the budget – not the corrupt school board).

  3. P.S. & not that we haven’t fought the school board every step of the way. At some point you have to give up and do what’s best for the kids. I wish I could say we were able to reform the school board and have a wonderful school district. In the end, we give up, but we have a wonderful school.

  4. The most politically-active thing you can do to save money is not to oppose new taxes, but rather to shine the light of day on wasteful government spending.

  5. I’m surprised you say that you use your local library for research. I don’t know what kind of research you’re talking about, but I know that I couldn’t count on my local library to have current titles. Meaning, their budget limits what books they get, and I can get much more up to the minute research by going online.

  6. Jay Gatsby is right. The most politically active thing you can do is shine a light on wasteful government spending. One big problem that hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity is govt. employee unions convincing local governments to pay wages and benefits far in excess of what these individuals could get in private businesses. There was one police officer (among others with similar problems, but this was just the most egregious) in our county that went on full disability for a finger injury of some sort. And then he got a job in another community’s police department. So he was essentially getting paid twice. It was brought up in the local papers but it turns out that the police officer did everything by the books. But the rules that got him all of that would never work for a regular business. It would put them out of business, which does appear to be what is happening in a lot of state, local, and, I daresay, federal governments.

  7. The ideas expressed in your column demonstrate the reason our elected leaders will have such a difficult time balancing their budgets, whether they be municipal or national. You don’t want cuts in services (and I’ll admit cutting library services is extreme) and you don’t want tax increases. You can’t have it both ways. Things provided by government actually do cost money and need to be paid for. And what you call ‘waste’ is very likely perceived as a very important service or benefit for another constituency.

    This is a personal finance blog. Imagine someone asking for advice about their personal finances but their preconditions are that: 1) they refuse to cut their spending in any way and, 2) they refuse to increase their income at all. Could you help them at all? Probably not. But that is what we are asking of our elected officials- no cuts in spending and no increase in revenue.

    Expressing our dissent is our political right but with that right comes responsibilities. We must stop demanding so much in the way of services from our government or we must be willing to pay for them. We are acting like children, wanting things without any regard to how it will be paid for or who will have to pay it.

  8. Donald,

    There do not need to be ANY cuts in services if we insist on two things: (1) cut wasteful spending, and (2) reallocate spending to support needed services. Unfortunately, our elected officials do not have the political willpower to make hard decisions. This is because they are, by their very nature, political animals whose decisions are swayed by opinion polls (or whoever can get more voters to the polls). For example, do we need to spend $500+ billion on defense? No, but there are tens of thousands of jobs dependent on weapons programs for enemies that no longer exist.

  9. Both Donald and Jay Gatsby make valid points. I don’t believe that reducing wasteful spending is always (or even often) enough to afford all necessary services, but reducing wasteful spending should certainly be the first approach when funds are low, before increased taxes.

    That said, Jay Gatsby is very correct about the general attitude many people display about government: we want it all, but we don’t want to pay for it. One might argue that they only want necessary services, but who decides what is necessary? Clearly you think the library is a necessary service. What about someone who never uses the library? They might argue it is unnecessary and should be cut. Or someone who homeschools? Maybe they don’t feel the public educational system is necessary.

    It is absolutely our responsibility to be politically active, and politics absolutely has an effect on our finances. That doesn’t mean it is always the right thing – politically, or financially – to fight for what is most obviously financially beneficial to you as an individual.

  10. Jay,

    When you say there there doesn’t need to be any cuts in services what you mean is that there doesn’t need to be any cuts in services that you think are a priority as long as we cut spending on things you consider wasteful. Unfortunately, those things you consider wasteful are important to other people. Why else would politicians fight to maintain spending in those areas. And let’s face it- true ‘wasteful’ spending makes up a small part of our budget. Entitlement programs are the greatest burden for our budget and will only grow more onerous. If we made meaningful reform in entitlement programs do you really think that people wouldn’t see that as reduction in government services.

    We have the politicians we deserve because we elect them and we provide the incentives for them to act in the way they do. We say, “cut taxes and cut spending… but not this spending that I derive benefit from because it is actually an important thing to spend money on.”

    I will grant you that defense spending is excessive but we must all be willing to shoulder the burden of reduced government benefits or increased taxes. Until we are willing to do that, no meaningful progress can be made in addressing our debt and deficit problem. Our gluttonous appetite for a free lunch must end.

  11. Jay,

    I’ll agree with you that many of those things seem like a waste of money. But like I said, they are a drop in the bucket when it comes to entitlement programs and eliminating discretionary like that will have little effect on our deficit.

    The point I am trying to make is that people see pork barrel spending as bad if it goes to another state but a good thing if it comes to their district. We all must be willing to give up little but more importantly we need to get a hold on our growing entitlement programs. Saving $200K here or there, while it sounds nice, really has no meaningful effect on our budget.

  12. Donald,

    Every little bit helps 🙂 Seriously though, I agree with you that we must cut our entitlement programs, but disagree that this is as simple as cutting the amount of money directed to such programs. Increased efficiency and elimination of waste are paramount.

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