By Arnold Kling
Robert Nelson, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, gave me a copy of an argument he submitted on behalf of a Montgomery County neighborhood (his) that was attempting to incorporate in order to have jurisdiction over some services.
Some government functions, such as water and sewer, police and fire, major roads, the criminal justice system, and others are best provided by a wider unit of government such as the County. These would remain County responsibilities under the Rollingwood municipal incorporation proposal. Education would also remain at the County level.
Other local services have more of a neighborhood character such as leaf and garbage collection, snow plowing, street cleaning and repairs, social events, supervision of tennis courts and other common facilities, local parks, supplementary security patrols, and others. Rollingwood proposes specifically to provide services of this localized kind.
The County Council refused to allow the citizens of Rollingwood to bring this to a vote. It seems to me that the solution is for the citizens of the County to use the initiative process to amend our charter to take away the County Council’s veto of incorporation proposals.
This set me to musing on what would happen if across the United States people were allowed to form charter communities, analogous with charter schools. Suppose that there were a mechanism by which I could band together with other citizens to form a unit that provides government services, and that we could reduce our tax payments by the amount that by which we thereby reduce the cost to the relevant government jurisdiction. Charter communities also could have some freedom to alter regulations. This would be a “bottom-up” way to get to competitive government.
What intrigues me about this charter-community concept is that it need not be limited to geographically contiguous areas. For example, in our County, some people might wish to belong to a charter community where trans fats are banned in restaurants, and others might wish to belong to a community where they are not banned. Both groups could be satisfied under a charter community concept. My neighbors could be in one community, and I could be in another.
Ultimately, perhaps the charter community concept could embrace people from different states. That way, one might be able to implement something like the Free State Project without having people physically move.
What Professor Nelson’s story suggests to me is that virtual federalism might emerge naturally if we could remove some of the barriers to incorporation by citizen groups.
Addendum: A recent paper by Professor Nelson is From BIDs to Rids: Creating Residential Improvement Districts.