Wasteful spenders of public money in local government should be feeling scared. I'm sure columnist Brian Rudman would agree with that - especially in these difficult economic times, when prudence should take absolute priority over excess.
He and I generally agree with those leaders of local government in New Zealand who believe that the desire to further community wishlists should be tempered with recognition that ratepayers' purses are not an endless money tree.
I have to say in response to the November 26 headline "Hide and local government a scary mix" that the heading was absolutely correct as it applies to rooting out those practices that lead to needless expenditure.
John Key said it well: "We want to work closely with the local government sector because, on many issues, central and local government are in the same boat. What we do matters in people's lives."
Both central and local government are faced with a need to prioritise carefully what we do. Central government needs to face up to the cost of the obligations it has foisted on local government over the past decade. Local government needs to look closely at the need for expenditure outside its core areas.
In difficult and volatile economic times - such as those we are now experiencing - there are always fresh schemes coming forward with a veneer of public good attached to them that can lead councils into risky areas of investment.
For example: should a ratepayer organisation be involved in any way in the financial arrangements for a visit by a US football team?
Ratepayers are rightly sensitive to increases in what they are required to pay out to councils at regional and territorial level. Too many people on fixed incomes are finding rate demands difficult to meet. The value of their property may have soared in recent boom years, but their ability to service the resulting increase in rates has not.
Central government has listened to the pleas for tax relief.
Local government must take on board that relief from rating increases above the level of inflation are over. I will not be apologising for keeping pressure on in this area.
It does mean that, at times, there will be robust debate around councils' selection of what they wish to spend ratepayers' money on. Without a doubt, Brian and I will have differences of view on some of these decisions.
But I must remind him that it was my support for the Public Transport Management Bill, wanted by Auckland councils, that achieved passage of the legislation. Legislation intended to foster competition for public transport subsidies and open the way to integrated electronic ticketing across bus, rail and ferry services.
I'm pleased that Brian recognises my support for the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act. The Act view was that there needed to be a fairer sharing of the financial burden for region-wide arts and cultural organisations and facilities.
We're consistent in our support for "a fair go". We're not approaching local government with a zealous ideological approach.
Heaven knows, we've had enough of that from the left for the past nine years! But we are demanding higher standards of accountability, less risk-taking with ratepayers' money and a focus on core areas of council operations.
I've got a quality Associate Minister in National's John Carter. John knows local government well and understands community needs with special insights that he's gathered from travelling thousands of kilometres around his Northland electorate.
It may be of comfort to Brian Rudman that we don't have a scorched earth policy. But we are committed to being a voice for ratepayers in keeping council expenditure at levels communities can afford, and our policy is that core functions should take priority when it comes to spending choices.
* Act Party leader Rodney Hide is the new Local Government Minister.