Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why the Tax Day Tea Party is important

As an elected official for 13 years, I took some stands on government spending and taxation that were certainly not popular.

I opposed spending tax dollars for 'community funding,' the politically-worded name for county commissioners to make charitable donations with your money. For taking such a position, I was called stingy, cruel, mean, heartless - and those are the adjectives I can print. My response, of course, was that I was very much in favor of supporting charitable organizations - I just preferred to do it with my own money - not someone else's.

In a discussion with a reporter in 2004, I was asked about long-term goals and my response was that I wanted to reduce the county sales tax. I said that if Lucas County were ever going to achieve such a goal, we needed to start now discussing how it could be done - and then planning accordingly.

The Blade editorial response (Sunday, July 11, 2004) was this:

LUCAS County Commissioner Maggie Thurber is not up for re-election this year, so she must have a lot of free time on her hands. That's a charitable view of her suggestion that the county sales tax can be cut three to five years down the road - at a time when a $7 million deficit is staring county officials in the face for next year.

...but it looks very much as if Commissioner Thurber has purposefully tossed a political bomb into the county budget process.

Ms. Thurber claimed to have no specific cuts in mind. She said: "If we sat down and told all the county elected officials that over the next three years we're going to try to cut county government, so we can cut our sales tax , I think we could do that." She apparently is parroting the attractive but disingenuous Republican Party line that taxes - all taxes - should be cut, regardless of the economic circumstances or the consequences for county services.

...

So why is she tossing out politically explosive suggestions without specifying how much of the county's 1.25 percent sales tax she wants to cut and what services she would cut as a result?

Lopping off the 0.25 percent portion added by commissioners in 1993 would result in a revenue loss to the county of $13.4 million a year. The bulk of that money, $9 million, pays for emergency medical service, with the rest going for such safety-related items as extra sheriff's deputies, court security, and a courthouse computer system. If that's what Ms. Thurber wants to cut, she should say so. While we agree that economy in government should always be in the minds of public officials, tax -cut showboating is a playground for the politically idle, who take no responsibility for ensuring that needed services are delivered to real people. Economy in government is rarely, if ever, achieved by waving a magic wand over the budget.

Ms. Thurber 's two colleagues on the county board made it clear they do not take such a light-hearted view of the budget situation. Harry Barlos, board president, said that a sales tax cut would not be fiscally prudent. "Any discussion of lowering taxes is totally premature," he commented...

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a Democrat, also took a dim view of tax -cut talk, pointing out that she had voted against the 2004 budget because she thought it did not provide enough money for the sheriff and prosecutor's office.

...

Ms. Thurber 's tax -cut talk is an air-headed trial balloon. Talk is cheap, but talk alone won't bring about cheaper government.

Note the terms and phrases: too much free time, political bomb, parroting, disingenuous, politically explosive, no specifics, showboating, politically idle, no responsibility, magic wand, not fiscally prudent, premature, air-headed.

As a result of that editorial and the cover it gave my fellow elected officials, no one would even consider having a discussion about how to lower the tax rate in the county. Since the paper was against it, no elected official had to worry about seriously contemplating the idea.

But - as was often the case with positions I took - I got a lot of phone calls telling me that I was right about the sales tax. When I asked those callers if they would take a stand with me, they all said no. They wouldn't go up against The Blade and didn't want to risk their businesses or reputations on the issue.

This was very common and it wasn't just the sales tax idea. The conservative positions I advocated had considerable support throughout the community - but not public support. And the lack of public support meant that other elected officials did not have to take those positions seriously - they could continue to go along as they always had because they did not believe the public opposed them.

Since leaving office, I have seen what I call 'pockets of change.' These are small groups of people who come together for an issue or idea and pressure elected officials to act. One will pop up here or there, and address an issue. I'm not talking about the Community Development Corporations (CDCs) or other organizations - I'm talking regular citizens, like Block Watch groups or the supporters of the Three For Change slate of candidates for Toledo School Board. They are non-partisan (or bi-partisan, depending on your preference) and they are focused on a goal that is not related to a certain political party or even money.

And now there is the Tax Day Tea Party. Regular citizens who are tired of the interference and cost of government - and the elected officials who ignore them - are coming together to show that frustration.

Contrary to the leftist spin, these individuals are not being 'told' to do this by any particular group or organization or party. Many of them have never been involved in political activity and they realize that if they are to have the government they want, they must be.

Some have questioned what a rally/protest will accomplish. Will it send the desired message to those in charge? I don't know - that will depend on whether or not those in charge actually LISTEN to what the people are saying.

But it will be successful if two things happen:

1) People will attend and realize they are not alone. As a result, they will be more likely to express their opinions. No one wants to be the 'lone voice crying in the wilderness' and sometimes, all it takes is to know that others feel the same way you do. As the participants look around and see their neighbors who share their ideas about how government should work, they will realize that those ideas are truly mainstream and not an aberration. That, in and of itself, can be enough to keep them engaged in the processes and providing the direction to our employees in government that is so desperately needed.

2) They use the Tea Party as a first step. Most Tea Parties will have volunteers collecting contact information for future activities. Participants need to be willing to share that information and, when contacted on an issue, act. While I do not expect that every person who attends will do so, if some allow themselves to be contacted and then actually act the next time an issue arises, it will be more participation in the past - and that will be good.

As I look back on my years in public office, I know I certainly would have listened to such a crowd...and I can only imagine what could have been if such a party had been held to support just the one idea of lowering the county sales tax.

I'll see you all at International Park at 11:30 today!

2 comments:

themacdonnells said...

Amen!

Hooda Thunkit said...

Spoken like a true Lady.

Class all the way!

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