Publisher's Note: Which bills are worth it
By Jody Reese
With revenues to state and local governments in serious decline, our elected officials are facing tough challenges. There seems little appetite for new or broader taxes, so officials are trying to figure out ways to increase “voluntary” taxes and fees and trim back spending. Trimming spending is getting tougher as the down economy creates more need for government assistance. This raises many important questions about our government’s role in serving the public. Key to this is what services are offered and the cost of providing them.
Government’s role has changed dramatically since the Great Depression. Before, government had a very limited role, leaving most social services to charities. However, the scale of the Depression and the toll it took on our society changed all that. Great public works were started to give people jobs, camps were set up for the homeless and starving. Government’s role grew even more during the Second World War as the government shifted our economy to fighting the war. After the war, government’s role receded a bit, but issues such as poverty, race and gender exposed deep rifts in our society and government stepped in with social programs such as the Great Society, anti-discrimination legislation and a more active court system.
Government was quickly replacing religion as the great organizer in our society. Every step past Social Security seemed like a natural next step. Government even bought and stored large amounts of oil, bailed out car companies (a generation ago) and built homes for people.
But as our government did more, we didn’t want to pay for more and we started to customarily borrow large amounts of money. Today much of that money is owed to foreign governments, such as the Chinese. And that’s not good.
We’ve found ourselves living in a big house with a lot of hired help, but we don’t want to pay the bills. There are really only two ways out of this predicament: get rid of the house and staff we love or pay the bills.
To me the real value of something is measured in what you’re willing to give up for it. When money gets tight do you cut back on name- brand cereals or your cable package? Do you downgrade the car to a smaller more efficient one or go out to eat less often?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a government borrowing money. It’s quite useful during a war or economic crisis, but we borrow every year, even in the good times. We need to make decisions about our priorities and figure out what we really value as a society.
Do we value universal health insurance at the expense of a spending the week in a rented cabin? Do we value education at the expense of buying a new car every other year?
And if people vote that they don’t want to spend more of their money for more government services, then they really don’t want those services and government needs to reduce the spending it does on those services. I might personally feel — and do — that I’d pay an extra $200 a year in property taxes to have the streets cleared immediately after a snow storm so all the Hippo staffers can get to work on time and safely. But that’s just how I value that service. That’s the kind of discussion we need to have around our budget season and the giant health care legislation that is currently proposed in Washington, D.C.