Lawmakers can learn much at home

Guest Editorial
Just hours before Congress was set to shut down last week for a five-week vacation and leave town, lawmakers hurriedly jammed through some stopgap measures to keep the federal government limping along a little longer. They left a lot of important unfinished business behind.

Still, maybe it is a good thing that members of Congress are returning to their home states. While they are back home, they should take some time to look at the way government operates at the state and local levels. They would see how community leaders work together to get things done instead of wasting time on partisan attacks and parliamentary maneuvers that paralyze government.

This is most obvious in the way cities and counties are doing the right thing by paying for essential services and infrastructure. Federal lawmakers should look at these local governments to see responsible public officials in action. Government as practiced at the local level, closest to the people, is in sharp contrast to the way things work — or, more to the point, don’t work — in Washington, D.C.

Cities, counties and school boards prepare annual budgets to pay for police and fire departments, schools, libraries, sewers and other unglamorous but essential services. Those budgets are balanced without issuing treasury notes. They develop long-range capital improvement budgets to pay for things like streets, sewers, water towers, park improvements and school buildings, and they go to the voters to get permission to borrow money.

When the cost of these local services and public improvements exceeds revenue, local officials must explain to taxpayers why it’s necessary to either raise taxes and fees or expect fewer police officers, firefighters, teachers, library hours and pothole patches.

Congress has apparently become disconnected from the realities of governing that is practiced at the local level. Maybe it’s because members of Congress have become disconnected from the folks back home — the people they were elected to serve. Rather than seeing their constituency as consisting of all the people, members of Congress increasingly look out only for the narrow political faction that got them elected. In the case of the House, that is in politically homogeneous districts carved out by gerrymandering.

So, while the senators and representatives are back home during this legislative break, they should stop by city hall or the courthouse and get some tips to take back to Washington.

— LIVINGSTON DAILY PRESS AND ARGUS

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