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Your city, your school, and your county manage millions of dollars apiece. Find out what happens when nobody pays attention. Read the series of articles called Missouri's Poli-Ticks about cases of corruption that cost us dearly.

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Related Articles:
Missouri's Poli-Ticks (vol. 1)

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J.J.Rizzo: Saga of a Party Prince

Why Some Votes Are More Equal Than Others

The Bureaucracy of Politics
A Lack of Kander
Stolen Votes
Rotten Districts

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Volunteer Article

Secretary Kander
The view from Washington
Upside-Down Democracy

January 24th, 2016
by Jon Schuessler

Let’s take a short quiz:

  1. Who is the President?
  2. Who is the Governor of Missouri?
  3. Who is your state representative (or senator)?

I’ll wager that most of you easily answered the first question, hesitated on the second question, and had no idea about the third.

Why? Why are we so well-versed in national politics, and yet have no idea about what’s going on next door? Everyone knows about our multi-trillion national debt, but if I asked you, “How much debt does your school district have,” could you give an answer that came close?

The blame for our ignorance lays squarely with our reliance on network news. None of the major media companies regularly talk about local politics. Unless there’s a huge scandal, or the state capitol inexplicably transforms itself into head cheese, or something equally sensational, the news networks are silent.

Conversely, the babble about the presidential race started more than a year before the actual election. It’s been blasted over the media airwaves on a daily basis. You hear it on the radio, see it on the TV, read about it on the Internet and newspapers and magazines – there’s simply no escape.

I’m not saying that the U.S. Presidency is an unimportant office. Dramatic events, such as wars, come to pass under a President’s auspices. The day-to-day stuff, however, has nothing to do with the President, or Congress, or the Supreme Court.

The government that has the most influence in your life is your city council, your county council, and your state legislature. The U.S. Congress has 50 states to worry about, and over 300 million constituents. Your city council, on the other hand, has pretty much only you and your neighborhood to govern. They’re focused; Congress isn’t. Congress isn’t going to fix a pothole, or put a pay meter on your favorite parking spot – your local government will.

There’s also the issue of money. Most people see the mind-boggling trillions in Congressional budgets, and automatically assume that makes them more important than Missouri’s “small” budgets of billions. They don't realize that nearly all of Congress' money goes somewhere other than Missouri. In fact, Missouri state revenues outspend federal funds by a factor of nearly two to one.

I’ll say that one more time, for effect. The state of Missouri spends TWICE as much money for its citizens than the federal government does.

In addition, county, municipal, and school budgets form pools of tax money completely separate from the state. Combined, these pools either equal or double the spending per capita of the federal government.

In Jefferson County, for instance, the county government spends about $400 per person ($92 million total). The average city in Jefferson County separately spends about $1,000 per person. Festus, with a population of 11,600, actually spends $19.1 million per year, or $1,600 per person.

Chart of sources of funding
Who pays for Missouri's public pie

Finally, the average school district takes in separate local property tax levies of around $1,000 per person. The Fox school district, for instance, taxes 67,000 residents. It spends $133 million per year, of which $59 million comes from local tax money, or about $880 per person.

Add up the averages - $400 county, $1,000 city, and $1,000 school - and it could possibly dwarf the federal government's $1,600 per-person spending.

I’ll say that again, with feeling. Your school, city, and county are spending JUST AS MUCH OR MORE per Missouri resident as the federal government.

So, for all of the noise about the President and Congress, it turns out that they may only contribute a paltry 20% - 25% to your governance.  Their prestige and influence is all out of proportion to this contribution. Federal funding in education, for instance, is a feeble 10% on average in Missouri schools – yet many federal policies have managed to creep their way into our education system without public scrutiny.

Our obsession with Washington, D.C. isn’t just misdirected, however. It’s also pointless. Consider the upcoming presidential election. New York City, all by itself, has three times as many votes as the entire population of Missouri. So, Missouri’s overall influence in national politics is very small. For the individual Missourian, that influence drops to zero.

Secretary Kander
Would you trust this foundation?

Nevertheless, most Missouri voters only show up to elect the President. Thanks to mass media, 60% of us are happily voting in national elections where we have virtually no influence on the outcome. Only 30% are voting in statewide elections. A miserable 15% are turning out for the local elections, even though this is where we have the greatest influence.

No wonder people are frustrated with politics! With such an upside-down perception of our problems and political abilities, any effort at real change is doomed to failure. Instead of talking to hundreds of neighbors in our local district, we try to tackle hundreds of millions of voters at the national level.

In the end, because we feel helpless, we wait for a national savior, unaware of the power that exists within our backyard.

I say enough of Obama. Stop worrying about Trump, Clinton, Bush, and all of the other self-important blatherers on TV. They get too much attention already. Turn the tables on these loudmouths and turn off the national news.

Then take control of your life and hold local governments accountable. Elect school boards that will actually do their job, rather than rubber-stamp their superintendents’ decisions. Forbid city councils from giving away your taxes as “growth incentives” to billionaire CEOs. Write to state legislators and demand that they take a stand against destructive federal policies.

Our republic has been turned on its head for too long. Let’s help it get back on its feet.

Jon Schuessler is a Volunteer leader in Jefferson County, and the chairman for Missouri Volunteers for Government Reform, a Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Volunteer Movement. Click here to read his bio or contact him.

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