Reading Between the Lines about “Subsidiarity”

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Governor Brown’s State of the State address that centered on fiscal discipline and his call for a constitutional rainy day fund should be praised. (A tip of the hat to Sutter Brown for effectively driving home the point). But I focus here on the governor’s issue of “subsidiarity” and whether there was a hidden plan behind the word.

The governor used the Oxford English Dictionary to define the word. We’ll have to be satisfied with a link to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of subsidiarity. Basically, subsidiarity means the state should perform functions that cannot be done effectively by local governments but first leave the local government to do what they can.

The governor spoke in this vein about the prison realignment program and the school funding program recently enacted. Let the locals handle it.

He told the legislators that their work regarding funding is crucial to the local efforts “but we should never lose sight of the reality that life is local and that so many things we try to do here in the State Capitol can only be handled by local representatives and leaders.”

Fair enough.

But is there a next phase to this move toward subsidiarity?

Does this mean that more funding should be the responsibility of local officials and local voters? There are about a half-dozen measures sitting in the legislature that would make it easier to raise local revenues by lowering the vote count from two-thirds to 55% of the voters to pass taxes and bonds in local elections.

Was the message to the legislature that making it easier to raise taxes locally would reinforce the notion of subsidiarity? Even if the governor was not delivering a message, some legislators will make the argument.

Subsidiarity could replace revenue enhancement and investment as the new code word for local taxes.

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