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Gingersnap
11-12-2009, 01:09 PM
'Political downsizing' is latest weapon for voters

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

HAMBURG, N.Y. Joe Killian rose at a taxpayers' forum one night to bemoan the chronically high cost of government in western New York. "Nothing's worked," said the burly, 59-year-old water utility worker. "We're the Cubs. This team don't win."
It's winning now. Discouraged by unemployment and depopulation and frustrated by politicians' inability to solve either, voters aren't just throwing the rascals out of office they're throwing out the offices.

In what this region calls "political downsizing," communities are voting by referendum to reduce the number of seats on town councils. The movement's theory, as voiced by its founder, a gadfly named Kevin Gaughan: The best (and maybe only) way to cut government is to start with your own representatives.

So far the downsizing movement is confined mostly to western New York, but it's part of a national wave of frustration over big government that was illustrated this year by raucous town-hall-style meetings over health care and the rise of the Tea Party movement. Unlike those movements, downsizing is a proven hit at the ballot box.

This year, all four towns that considered citizen-initiated referendums to trim their boards from five members to three have voted to do so. They range from Orchard Park, the affluent suburb where the NFL's Buffalo Bills play, to the rural, close-knit town of Alden. In several other communities, councils have voluntarily elected to downsize.

This month, Niagara County voters decided overwhelmingly to reduce the county legislature from 19 members to 15.

There's even talk of dissolving whole villages (which are parts of towns but levy additional taxes and have their own elected boards). Last month, with visions of a 40% tax cut in their heads, the villagers of Limestone voted 3-to-1 to dissolve. The next council downsizing referendum is Tuesday in this community of 56,000, where one candidate in the Nov. 4 election endorsed downsizing, even though it would eliminate the seat he was seeking. He won.

"This is our chance to send a message," Killian says. "Now we have a stick" a quick up-or-down vote on whether to take a bite out of government that spares service providers such as police and teachers. Nothing personal, he adds: "The guys on the council are friends of mine. I'm sorry it has to start at this end. But it has to start somewhere."

I like it.

USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-11-11-political-downsizing_N.htm)