Expecting something for nothing is the most popular form of
hope. -- Arnold Glasow
-- Arnold Glasow
It seems trivial. Not even worth mentioning. Yet a lack of
understanding of a simple truth is the source of much of our controversy and many
of our long term problems in Washington.
You can’t get something for nothing.
In the context of government, this translates as, we can’t ask government for services unless we are willing to pay for those services through taxes. Surveys, letters to the editor and to legislators by citizens claim we want better services: education second to none, transportation infrastructure and mass transit sufficient to avoid traffic backups, police and firefighters to protect us against both the normal problems of society and the new potential of terrorism in our back yards. Yet, when faced with the cost of those services, we vote in favor of candidates and positions best described by that old shibboleth, “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that guy behind the tree.” A classic example was the shortening of Virginia DMV hours in response to the budgetary shortfall left by the past Governor and legislature. Everyone wanted the services, and we faced the humorous situation of GOP legislators who voted against any way to gather the money necessary to keep the DMV offices open, clamoring for the hours reinstatement, but none volunteered where the money should be found.
This year we elect a Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, and 100 members of the House of Delegates. If we are to ask our elected representatives to act responsibly then we have the obligation as voters to act responsibly as well, and not elect legislators based on promises we know to be impossible to keep. If we elect people who promise high dollar services on low dollar taxes, and don’t elect or reelect people who deal with the reality that in most states and communities state budget dollars out must equal dollars in, both on a yearly and long term basis, then we are on the road to turning Our country into Mississippi. Voters need to be more sophisticated in their analysis than “Taxes Bad.”
Nobody likes to pay taxes, but taxes are the price of civilization. We can choose to be a very low tax state, but only should do so with the understanding that the result will be poor and deteriorating schools, insufficient and unrepaired roads, understaffed and underequipped police and fire departments, and state colleges and universities which either charge tuition as high as private institutions or don’t provide the level of excellence we expect.
We must demand a fair tax system, where taxes paid and services provided are balanced across regions, and between individuals and business. But if instead of rewarding those who try to deal with reality we continue to reward through our votes those who propose we can get something for nothing, then nothing is what we will get. The situation in county seats, state capitals and Washington right now, to that extent, is our fault, because the message we sent when we elected people who promised us a free lunch is the way for them to keep those jobs is not to govern responsibly, but to keep feeding us happy talk about getting something for nothing.