County council tax-cut pledge doesn’t serve constituents

A nonbinding pledge to reduce taxes and pursue other fiscally conservative policies adopted by the Bartholomew County Council — after it passed the county’s largest budget ever — was pure political theater. But when has that ever stopped some politicians?

Greg Duke, Evelyn Pence and Bill Lentz developed the pledge and brought it up for council members to vote on, but deep down, they must know it’s pointless. That’s a more direct word for “nonbinding.” Being of no effect is the only way it could have passed.

Nevertheless, this stunt placates a good number of voters for whom taxes are always wrong. It also allows council members to caw about what budget hawks they are, facts to the contrary notwithstanding.

Fact is, the largest budget in county history in and of itself is not cause for alarm. County population is the largest it’s ever been, too, having grown more than 30 percent in the past 30 years. People and businesses locate where they do based in part on services and quality-of-life amenities. These cost money.

As The Republic’s Mark Webber reported, council member Scott Bonnell questioned the need for the pledge, which also says the council will fund needed services and scrutinize them, among other things. “All of this is what we already try to do at every meeting,” Bonnell noted.

After other council members questioned the need for the pledge, Duke interjected unneeded, unwelcomed and misplaced national political pontification: “We’re entering a period of greatly increased taxes by the federal government, dominated by the Democrat Party.”

Political persuasions aside, this is bad form and an ill wind for county government. Mr. Duke did not go to Washington when he was elected to the Bartholomew County Council.

Instead of focusing on empty promises, council members should tell their constituents what their vision is for a growing Bartholomew County over the next five, 10, 20 years. Give us some concrete goals. If your answer is simply “cut taxes,” tell us who you’d fire and which services you would reduce or eliminate to save money. Share your plan.

We’d rather hear how you will expedite delivery to your constituents of long-overdue, highly demanded broadband internet service. How do you plan to catch up on deferred maintenance at the courthouse and deal with jail overcrowding and staffing problems? We’re just scratching the surface.

One council member, Mark Gorbett, abstained from voting for the pledge, which every other member voted to adopt. The longtime public servant said it’s not good government to attempt to bind council members who control the county’s purse.

“If we wouldn’t have increased taxes two or three years ago, we’d be in sad shape now,” Gorbett said. He’d taken that tough vote, and he stands by it. He realizes there may be tough votes in the future. He couldn’t vote for the pledge, even though that would have been an easy vote. Gorbett’s abstention showed principle.

Instead of platitudes, we need representatives willing to take tough votes for the public good, even if that means raising taxes when justified. Voters are wise enough to discern who’s serving them and who’s serving some other interest.