A Local Agenda
Whatever the name and theme of our new party, we need a local agenda. One of the themes that I have seen during recent attempts to reform the Libertarian Party has been that the national platform should stick to national issues and the state parties should have their respective state issues.
For a new party this does not work! In fact, a major problem with the Libertarian Party has been that its agenda was nationally focused from the start.
Any call to move control from the federal to the state level is a national agenda. It has to be passed by the federal congress to get implemented. A startup party does not have the resources to affect U.S. Congressional races. If the national web site (and related outreach materials) focus on this or other national issues, then the party will recruit people interested in doing things the party cannot do.
This is a major reason I turned down Don Wills’ offer to be a founding member of the Free State Party (or whatever name it eventually adopts). Its agenda is too national. If he can get state affiliates off the ground with real local solutions, it might work, so I am not writing his efforts off entirely, but I want to launch with a realistic agenda from the start (Bottleneck C).
The initial agenda for a new party should be very heavy with ideas that can be implemented at the local level, followed by state issues, and then followed by federal issues. Yes, it is proper to condemn the excess power wielded by the feds--people will want to know where you stand regarding the most powerful level of government—but you must recruit people interested in local solutions in order to rack up some early victories.
Here are some possible issues. The list is not complete, and some of the ideas need to be handled at the state level (depending on the state).
A property tax deductible. Instead of a flat rate for property taxes, how about making the first $50,000 or so tax free. This would encourage home ownership for the poor, which should help reduce crime.
Land based taxation. Tax the ground at a higher rate than the improvements thereon. This has been done in some Pennsylvania cities.
Tax credit for private schooling. This could be off of either property or income taxes, depending on the locality.
District based elections. Yes, this sounds anti-third-party, but it is a good government issue. At large, multi-member districts squeeze out minorities, make representatives less accountable, and make campaigning more expensive. Tight districts make campaigning cheaper.
Range voting. Here is where you can push for rules that are more third-party friendly.
A separate school board for every school. This is an idea from New Zealand. Instead of a single board for a county or city, give each school (or at least each high school with related feeders) its own board. If each school has its own board, you can eliminate the office of superintendent and have the principlal directly accountable to the board.
Community-based zoning. Instead of having a citywide zoning board, let each community set its own rules. Some property taxes should also stay at the community level. This eliminates a moral hazard; with some property taxes retained, communities can property weigh the tradeoffs between externalities that come from having businesses and additional revenues for parks and sidewalks that come from allowing businesses that serve more than just the community.
Community based noise and ugliness ordinances. Some people like having the lawn police enforce beautification. Others want to work on cars in their front yard. This should be a neighborhood decision. Ditto for acceptable levels and noise and party times.
Proper law enforcement focus. You cannot end the drug war at the local level, but you can determine how much it is enforced. The police do not attempt to enforce every traffic violation (except in speed traps). We don’t have sting operations for every difficult to enforce law. As long as drug use is illegal, publicly detectable drug use should be enforced, as a matter of rule of law. But there need not be spies trying to catch the responsible users. And judge candidates can promise minimal sentences within the bounds of the law.
Give sports to the Parks and Recreation Department. This is a backdoor way to let home school students participate in intramural sports. This is the norm in Europe. Such a policy might get the schools to adjust their priorities.
Let mini private schools use the public parks as playgrounds. A playground can be a significant expense for a micro-school. This idea may require the school paying a fee for such use.
Tax adjustments for externalities. Instead of setting limits and quotas, use taxes to create a market signal for the proper amount of both negative and positive externalities. Signs could be taxed on amount of area and brightness. City businesses could be given a tax break for opening up their parking lots during their off hours or for opening up their restrooms to the public.
Separate government for city and surrounding county. Rural areas need different rules than cities. In many states there is overlap. City residents should be free from county taxes. County government should be elected by the county – not cities within the county.
Early on, a new party should have brochures and/or position papers on such subjects for use by local affiliates. The initial activist base should have an enthusiasm for doable projects.
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Copyright 2007, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.