The Hernando tea partier we wish we could ignore

One of Hamilton Hanson’s money-saving budget tips is to charge people $35 for library cards.
One of Hamilton Hanson’s money-saving budget tips is to charge people $35 for library cards.
Published Sep. 27, 2013

I'd hoped the time had come when we could ignore people like Hamilton Hanson.

Exposing the nuttiness of his ideas is so easy that it's really not much fun. Besides, what's the point?

He's one of those small government extremists who like to show up at County Commission meetings in clownish, red "We the People" T-shirts — a classic tea partier carrying on after his political moment has come and gone.

Or maybe not.

In Washington, lawmakers who think a lot like Hanson — including U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill — are threatening to shut down the federal government. And at the final county budget hearing on Tuesday, three commissioners fell all over themselves trying to shrink an already shriveled budget.

The fringe, it seems, is still front and center.

So let's look at Hanson's suggestions for saving money, which he helpfully condensed into a document presented to County Administrator Len Sossamon last week.

It contained the results of a survey of "citizens," who I'm guessing (Hanson declined the chance to tell me for sure) consist of a few fellow members of the Glenn Beck fan club and who I know are stunningly ill-informed.

For example, they classify fire protection as "one more non-essential service when it comes to protecting our rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Obviously, there's no government service more essential to protecting lives, and I'd say it's pretty difficult to pursue happiness if you have to stand by helplessly and watch your house burn to the ground.

Maybe volunteers could handle the job, Hanson and his crew suggest, but regardless of how the service is provided the main objective is to remove it "from the general tax rolls and put it into its own activity, paid for solely by the citizens who contract for such services."

If they'd done some homework, they might have found that this is basically how the county fire department already is funded — through fees paid by property owners and without a single penny coming from the general fund.

Maybe Hanson is suggesting that only people who pay for this service should receive it, in which case we'd have firefighters checking to see whether blazes were afflicting paying customers before rolling out the trucks.

Hanson's survey also concluded that user fees could help pay for park maintenance, though it's unclear if he knows that many park users already pay, and that they barely make a dent in maintenance costs.

And he suggests that the 90,000 holders of library cards in the county could be asked to pay $35 for this privilege, which is precisely when that number would start to shrink drastically. It also seems odd that Hanson, so fond of the lessons of our nation's founding, could forget that free access to learning has been a guiding — and hugely beneficial — principle of this country since even before it was a country.

Further savings are available, Hanson wrote, by eliminating mosquito control and animal services and by paying a business development coordinator the way you do other "top-notch sales persons" — on commission only.

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That sounds like a great way to attract hacks desperate for employment and provide them with the incentive to give away vast sums in county tax breaks to any business willing to relocate here. But you have to admit these salespeople would earn every penny if they could attract investment to a county plagued by swarms of biting insects and stray dogs.

Not surprisingly, all of Hanson's suggestions are based on an underlying assumption that is completely backward: County government keeps growing while, as Hanson wrote, the "LOCAL economy shrinks 40 percent."

Actually, as measured by the total amount paid to public and private workers, the county's economy has climbed very slightly, by 1.3 percent, since the peak of the boom in 2006, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Yes, the public payroll has also increased slightly, but that's mostly because the Sheriff's Office took over the job of running the county jail. Strip that away and the payroll of all city and county employees in Hernando has dropped by about 7 percent during this period.

The number of county employees controlled directly by the commission, meanwhile, has been cut nearly in half, and the general fund has shrunk much faster, by 24 percent. And it will shrink another $466,000 next year.

So where does Hanson get the idea that county government is a "growth industry?"

Who knows? But it's nonsense. And it needs to be ignored.