By Anthony J. Santino

Town of Hempstead Senior Councilman

Take a look at your paycheck. You’ll find more than a few bucks missing, and you have Congress and the president to thank.

The federal government’s continued dysfunction, especially when it comes to negotiating a workable, bipartisan fiscal policy, serves as a reliable model for many states and local municipalities of what not to do. Regardless of political party or ideology, this unfortunate condition has plagued both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government for some time. This needs to change. Washington can learn something from local government.

The Town of Hempstead is a good place for Washington to begin broadening its outlook. Hempstead is far from the “small town, moms, and apple pie” image the word “town” evokes for most Americans. Rather, Hempstead is America’s largest township, with well over 800,000 residents–a population larger than five U.S. states and the cities of Miami, Denver, and Boston.

Despite our size, Hempstead is committed to a rigid discipline of commonsense fiscal policies, prudent budget practices, carefully planning for expenditures, having the fortitude to make necessary sacrifices, and, best of all, paying off its debt. As a result, the Town of Hempstead earns annual recognition for achievements such as holding the line on taxes and consistently saving money for a rainy day. In fact, for 2013, the town is collecting less money in taxes than it did the previous year.

Washington is the ultimate contrast; it’s a place where midnight deals are slapped together by professional politicians. No one ever hears of, let alone remembers, collecting less federal taxes.

While the media hailed the recent deal on the fiscal cliff, the bargain is breathtaking only in how unremarkable it actually is. At best, minimal compromise was achieved.

Congress took the easy way out by kicking the can down the road. Our federal elected officials struck a deal that affects working families and seniors by yanking an extra $1,000 a year for every $50,000 earned from our pocketbooks.

Washington’s incapacity for compromise hurts every taxpayer and senior. Senators and congressmen like to state their noble intention of preserving Social Security and Medicare–two extremely valuable federal programs that assist countless numbers of neighbors–as what guided them in drafting and passing this grand bill to avoid the fiscal cliff. However, they just delayed making a decision.

By shuffling and maneuvering the federal books, Congress extended the whole debt-ceiling drama by less than two months, further increasing taxpayer suffering in these uneasy economic times. Yes, the whole mess is going to erupt all over again.

It’s time our federal officials–senators, representatives, and the president–started to look beyond their jaded capital skyline toward state and local governments that are succeeding in overcoming avoidable stalemates and pointless partisan politics. We no longer have the luxury to allow the federal government to go blameless when sidestepping their responsibility to reach agreements that aid and protect us.

Congress must stop being the nation’s model of what not to do and instead institute what they should be doing, by following the lead of local municipalities. For example, Hempstead Town has contained expenses by reducing the town debt-services costs for the fourth consecutive year; it’s down almost 15% in 2013 as compared to 2010. Additionally, by instituting and adhering to best practices such as greater efficiency in hiring and allocating its labor force, total salary amounts in Hempstead Town are 1.2% lower than the previous year.

Congress can learn a thing or two right here about good government. Compared with the United States government’s first-ever credit decline, the Town of Hempstead maintains its AAA credit rating–the highest credit rating available, reaffirmed by Moody’s Investor Service as “reflect[ing] the town’s prudent fiscal management characterized by conservative budgeting practices, development by multi-year financial forecasts, and formal fund balance policies . . .”

Bolstering these top-notch credit ratings, Hempstead Town was again awarded the Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the independent Government Finance Officers’ Association for the eighth consecutive year. The award, the group’s highest distinction, recognizes transparency, accountability, and honesty in financial reporting.

Hempstead Town has no doubt faced daunting economic challenges. Historically, we have resolved these by accepting no outcome other than prudent, bipartisan agreement centered on informed fiscal decisions that allow us to continually live within our means.

Congress must adopt this philosophy–it fosters good government and responsible fiscal policy. And since it’s clear Washington can’t find solutions, it’s time we stand up and demand that they “go local.”

To paraphrase the legendary late House Speaker Tip O’Neill who said, “All politics are local,” our federal government needs to learn that “all fiscal policy is local.” It would serve Congress and our president well to seek fiscal solutions to their repeated cliffs and crises in ways used with great success by many of our nation’s municipal governments.

Just like the Town of Hempstead and other local counterparts, Congress needs to begin to take their responsibility as public servants seriously and start delivering results for the very public that so graciously invited them to serve. v

Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino is currently serving his fifth term on the Hempstead Town Board representing the Town of Hempstead’s 4th Council District, which includes the communities of Bay Park, Baldwin, East Rockaway, Harbor Isle, Hewlett, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Harbor, Hewlett Neck, Island Park, Lynbrook, Oceanside, and South Hempstead.

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