Myths and realities collide in government spending discussions
Wouldn’t it be nice if life was all rainbows and bluebirds?
It can be, most of us likely feel, if only things were as we know them (or wish them) to be. To paraphrase public radio host Garrison Keillor, the men would all be handsome, the women drop-dead gorgeous and their kids all above average.
In current political terms, we’d all be receiving only government services we personally benefited from, all paid for by cutting waste and by trimming salaries and benefits of overpaid and lazy public employees. Reduced taxes would magically generate jobs and revenues we’ve all been waiting several decades for, ever since the first George Bush termed the hallowed Ronald Reagan’s theory that lower taxes equal higher revenues “voodoo economics.”
Wishing doesn’t make it so.
We can’t all be handsome, gorgeous or above average. Much as we might like to selectively choose supportive events and actions to validate our opinions, coincidence doesn’t always equal causation. Even Reagan, by one accounting, raised taxes nearly a dozen times during his stints as California’s governor and as president.
But still we persist with our mythologies.
Budgets can be balanced without impacting Social Security or Medicare. Highways can be built and maintained without fees or gas-tax adjustments that reflect changes in driving habits. Kids can be educated and test scores will improve despite funding cuts at state and local levels and higher costs driven by state and federal mandates.
Public safety won’t be compromised when sheriff’s deputies are laid off in order to fund minimal tax breaks for local businesses. Taxpayers left paying the tab won’t mind subsidizing developers when planning fees are abolished. After all, 1,000 Chamber of Commerce members really know what’s best for more than 145,000 county residents.
The ironies abound.
Here’s one that’s intrigued me for a while. Two local conservative bloggers best known for their rants against government never, to my knowledge, turned down their paychecks when they were county or state employees. Rick Wagner waged no “War on Wrong” against the sheriff’s department or district attorney’s office, both of which he once worked for. Gene Kinsey, author of “Living the Grand Life,” formerly worked for the state of Colorado.
To be fair, not all the blame for our current state of affairs lies with folks outside of government looking in.
Battle lines are drawn when $40 million for much-needed new police station and main fire stations quickly morphs into a “public safety initiative” costing nearly three times that amount.
That leaves the folks who should have recognized the tenor of local politics spreading recycled road base over some of the two now-vacant downtown blocks purchased on the presumption that employee-identified “need” and government arithmetic, including a TABOR override, would triumph, they would be implementing the “Plan A” voters very well might have approved a couple of years ago.
Trouble is, swinging for the fences the first time and then being forced to bunt for a single not only wastes time and riles up the taxpayers, it poisons the well. If you doubt that, just wander a few blocks north from the where that road base is being spread and check out another couple of mostly vacant parcels that are the residue of two at-bats by the library district.
The responsibilities of leadership include determining the pace and scale of what voters might be willing to accept at any given time.
That’s why state Sen. Rollie Heath’s proposal to raise taxes primarily to fund K-12 and higher education in Colorado is probably a non-starter right now. But the Boulder Democrat deserves credit for recognizing that answers are hard to come by when one-half of the potential solution is somehow off limits.
And whether you call them “incentives” or “subsidies,” those exceptions in Colorado’s puzzling tax code also ought to be on the table. You and I might agree that some of them are valuable. But they’re “punching the balloon” in that revenue given up for a purpose we might think is valuable is revenue that has to come from somewhere else if services we also value are to be provided.
We can only pray for the day when the discussion of what government services are necessary and options for funding them can occur in an atmosphere of realism rather than mythology.
Because we’re all in this together.