Politics aside, local leaders want fiscal cliff compromise

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 05:02 AM

The holidays are generally seen as a time of sharing, but that message doesn't seem to have reached Capitol Hill, where legislative leaders and President Barack Obama have been either unwilling or unable to compromise on "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

Several tax breaks would expire if the House of Representatives and Senate fail to act, including Bush-era tax cuts on all personal income brackets and business tax cuts Obama put into place during his first term. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center has estimated that taxes would rise an average of $3,500 per person per year if that happens.

The debate has been at the forefront of many citizens' minds as the new year rolls around, including local political leaders.

Sticking to party lines, Sanford's Democratic Mayor Cornelia Olive blamed House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republicans for the repeated breakdowns in talks, and Republican Chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners Charlie Parks blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Obama and their fellow Democrats.

But unlike the national leaders, Parks and Olive did at least agree on one thing: Congress needs to get its act together.

"This whole process is, right now, a test of wills that is damaging to the American people, and I think it's one of the saddest commentaries on power plays that stand to hurt so many people," Olive said. "I think it's time they put their big boy pants on, and their big girl pants on, and sit down and reach a deal."

Parks cut straight to the chase, saying he thinks every senator and representative should rotate in and out of prison until the issue is resolved.

"They're committing fraud by taking money but not doing anything," he said, adding, "If people aren't willing to work together, we ought to throw them all out of office."

The details holding up the process seem to mainly revolve around where exactly to cut federal spending, and how much taxation is necessary. Republicans are generally reluctant to cut defense spending significantly although the war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, and Democrats are generally reluctant to cut entitlements significantly although such programs account for more than 60 percent of federal spending.

As for taxation, Obama recently proposed extending the Bush income tax cuts for everyone making less than $400,000 a year, up from his initial limit of $250,000. However, House Republicans already voted down a proposal from Boehner himself where the threshold was $1 million, and political observers say they are likely to do the same with Obama's more inclusive number.

Both Parks and Olive said their respective governmental bodies will be left searching for money if spending cuts do occur, although both also said they should be OK because of previous hard work by their employees.

The big hit for the city, Olive said, could be a loss of about $1 million from the water treatment plant due to changing interest rates on the municipal bonds that paid for it. But since the city has such a good credit rating, she said, the plant was already getting a discount of about $10 million on those interest rates, meaning it would still be $9 million in the black.

For Lee County, Parks said, cuts could come in the form of reduced funding for roads or health and social services. But he praised County Manager John Crumpton for putting the county in a position to deal with spending cuts going forward without having to raise local taxes.

"(National politicians) seem to think we've got deep pockets down here," Parks said. "But we've been responsible with our funds, and we've got a tremendous county manager who has done a great job getting his people to take care of what needs to be taken care of so we can do what we need to do without raising taxes."

Broadway Mayor Donald Andrews stayed away from playing a political blame game, also noting that Broadway doesn't get any federal funding and doesn't currently have any federal grants. However, he said, he's just as anxious as anyone else for a deal to be made because of the helpful effects the expiring tax cuts have had for local families and businesses in this poor economy.

"I'm optimistic that it may be one of these 12th-hour deals, but hopefully, they'll remember the art of compromise and find a solution that works for everyone," he said.