Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Conservatives for free trash Sunday, November 9, 2003
Rick Holmes Metrowest Daily News
So-called conservatives are rallying around a new cause: free universal trash collection.

Universal health care?  They're against it.  Wouldn't want the government in charge of something like health care.  Free pre-school?  They're against it.  People who need pre-school can pay for it themselves.

But suggest homeowners pay to have their trash picked up at the curbside and you're asking for a fight.  What are you, some kind of Communist?

More than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns have now moved to systems that require homeowners to buy stickers or special bags for their trash on the simple theory that the more you throw away, the more you should pay.  Pay-as-you-throw has increased recycling and sold a few trash compactors.  As near as I can tell -- my town has been doing this for years -- it hasn't resulted in increased littering or destroyed the American way of life.

But there's fear and outrage in communities still collecting trash the old-fashioned way.  In Natick, a conservative gadfly has collected enough signatures to force a special election to kill that town's new pay-as-you-throw system.  Framingham officials haven't even adopted pay-as-you-throw yet, but they've already had to fend off a Town Meeting article demanding every penny raised be offset in reductions to the property tax.

Framingham officials don't even want to mention pay-as-you-throw.  They'd rather call it "incentive-based recycling." Please.

Pay-as-you-throw opponents don't want to call it a trash fee.  They'd rather call it a tax.  Their semantic games are equally transparent.

Sure, you can call a fee a tax.  You can call it a rutabaga if you want, but that doesn't make it a starchy tuber.

There's a distinction here worth preserving.  A tax is something everyone has to pay.  A fee covers a service you can use or not.  If you don't drive to a state park, you don't have to pay a parking fee.  If you don't want to pay a Mass. Pike toll, use another road.

If you don't want to pay a fee for your trash, create less trash or take it elsewhere.  Framingham is looking at giving you your first bag free, which is a reasonable compromise.  Natick still pays half the cost of trash collection from tax receipts.  I'd like to see towns keep their transfer stations open at least one day a week, so that people who don't want to pay for curbside pickup can deliver their trash themselves.

But those are moderate solutions for moderate voters.  True conservatives should embrace the conservative solution:  Privatize it.

Believe it or not, government-provided trash collection is not guaranteed in the Constitution.  Nor is it a service, like national defense or fire protection, that can only be provided by the government.

Anybody with a pickup can collect your trash and take it to a landfill or incinerator.  Why should it be done by public employees with union contracts, clout in Town Meeting and generous benefits?

Lots of communities don't provide curbside pickup.  In tony suburbs like Wellesley and rural outposts like West Brookfield, it's up to the homeowner to contract with a private hauler.  Even some big cities -- including San Francisco, if memory serves -- let private enterprise take out the garbage.

The conservative solution doesn't appeal to conservatives in Framingham and Natick.  Pay-as-you-throw is an end run around Proposition 2 1/2, they cry, and it's true town officials are using it to save money in pinched budgets.  But Proposition 2 1/2 was enacted to keep the rising cost of government services from forcing outrageous increases in the property tax.  Say what you want about pay-as-you-throw, it doesn't increase property taxes.

Such logic doesn't impress today's conservatives.  They want their trash picked up by big government and they want it for free.  It's a small issue that reveals the big secret about modern conservatives:  They rant about their rights and rail about their country.  But what they really care about is their money.

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