New Zealands new local government minister, Rodney Hide, is looking into democratic ways to limit local government. I don’t much like the top down reality of government in places like New Zealand and Australia (and Britian and the USA and just about everywhere really). I’d prefer to see local governments calling the shots and having the power to formulate ways to limit central government. However the proposals being put forward are still encouraging in that they harness the power of democracy to limit government power rather than to enable it.
The first proposal is to limit the spending of councils to core activities unless approval is received from the people. So no more spending rate payers money on opera in the park unless the rate payers decide in a referendum that this is a proper function of local government. One critic of the reforms remarked:-
many councils would not bother with innovative projects if they had to hold a referendum first
Secondly Mr Hide wants ratepayers to decide directly on how much rates should increase by each year. Again I love the critics response:-
If it was such a great idea [requiring ratepayer approval] central government might like to apply it to itself, because we’re talking about quite small amounts of money.
In one local government area they have already trialed the intitative for themselves.
Under Mayor Laws, the Wanganui District Council has conducted annual referenda since 2005, including the option of local electors setting their rates increases.
This year the citizens of Wanganui were provided four different rate scenarios and chose a 3% rates increase. On Monday the Wanganui District Council trimmed its annual budget for 2009/10 and established a 3.2% average rate increase.
Over the past five years the Wanganui District Council has provided average rate increases of 2.5% per annum compared with the average rate of inflation of 3.2% per annum.
The proper function of democratic processes is to limit government power. It is nice to see democracy being promoted so close to home.