A better life in town and country
Local politics starts on our doorsteps – because keeping the roads and pavements in good order is a matter for the municipality. As providers of general interest services, the cities and municipalities create the parameters for community life and economic activity in urban and rural regions. Schools and day nurseries, swimming pools and libraries, cleansing and waste disposal: the municipalities are responsible for providing these and many other services which makes our lives, as local citizens, easier and more enjoyable – or not.
The fact is that many cities and municipalities are facing a financial crisis, and the future of many local amenities hangs in the balance. Will swimming pools, theatres and library services still be accessible at affordable prices in future? Who will provide the electricity supply or dispose of household waste? Which services will be maintained, and which will face the axe? Local citizens are increasingly confronted with questions like these.
The problem is not a new one and its impacts have been visible in many places for years. Analysts predict that the municipalities will need to invest more than 700 billion euros in their infrastructure over the next 10 years. Once the economic stimulus package comes to an end in 2011, the municipalities will find it almost impossible to compensate for the dramatic loss of tax revenue, and many will be unable to make the necessary investment or award contracts to local businesses.
It is time to take action. We Greens want to set a new course for the equitable financing of our cities and municipalities.
Federal and Land assistance with existing debts
Many municipalities – especially in North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland and the new federal states in eastern Germany – no longer have sufficient resources of their own to overcome the financial crisis. They need targeted support – from the federal and the Land level.
Adequate resourcing for municipalities
The federal level and the Länder are delegating too many tasks to the cities and municipalities without equipping them with the requisite financial resources. This under-funding is likely to increase dramatically over the next few years because the Federal Government is no longer permitted to provide direct assistance to the municipalities for services such as child care facilities or the expansion of full-day schooling.
This under-financing of the local authorities must stop. We are calling for new provisions to be incorporated into the German constitution, the Basic Law, to guarantee a minimum level of funding for local authorities as well as financial equalisation to take account of the additional burdens imposed upon them. The ban on cooperation between the federal level and local authorities must be scrapped.
Sustainable local taxes
The municipalities should not be dependent on drip feeding from the federal and state (Land) levels. The first priority, therefore, is to provide them with a permanent revenue source of their own. Besides measures to promote economic development and employment, business and property taxes must be placed on an equitable and sustainable footing. In its current form, property tax is neither equitable nor sustainable. We are therefore calling for the alignment of property tax towards ecological principles, based on reviewed and updated property values.
Business tax must also be established on a sustainable basis and adapted to meet the needs of a service-based economy. At present, many companies are not required to pay business tax. This is unfair. We Greens have therefore developed the concept of a local corporate tax.
Private is not better than state
Every citizen, now and in future, must have access to high-quality and affordable local services. However, financial difficulties and neoliberal competition policy have forced many local authorities to sell off their family silver and privatise many of their services. However, not every area of service provision is suitable for outsourcing to the private sector. Full ownership of the water supply should be in the hands of the local authorities, and majority ownership of grid infrastructures should remain with local citizens or, in the case of the power grids, for example, should be transferred to this form of ownership.
We Greens want to assist the local authorities to regain control of service delivery. To that end, our aim is to create a legal framework for the cities and municipalities which allows them to decide for themselves whether and how they deliver services. Whether state or private – it is essential, in both cases, to ensure that political control remains at the local level. City and municipal councils must regain and assert their democratic control, and decisions must be taken in a manner which ensures that they are transparent for citizens.