Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A failure of political courage

Yesterday afternoon I was talking with a younger guy who's lived here since '74, and he admitted that at that point he still hadn't decided how he'd vote on the sales tax. He's running a small food business, and understood that the higher tax would be hard on other retailers, if not him. He could not be convinced that the tax will expire. He understood the immediate impact on schools, etc. of non-passage, but believed none of those programs are run well and there is still lots of waste to squeeze out of the system. Overall it seemed to me that he was mainly angry at the government for putting him in the position of having to decide.

I think that anger is fully justified. Our legislators have known for many years that our fiscal house is built on sand, but refused to deal with it out of fear that the anti-tax crusaders might say nasty things about them in print. Gov Napolitano wasn't any more forthcoming about this issue either, although it's understandable given that for her, speaking up would have accomplished only her unelection. With their clear and longstanding majorities in both houses, however, and their hype about fiscal responsibility, Republicans should have stood up like adults and undertaken the hard choices to avert the disaster they should have seen coming. Instead they've passed the buck, leaving the voters to wipe up some of the mess with this nasty dishrag of a tax increase.

What's important to understand about this vote is that it doesn't fix anything. It will probably depress retail sales (and jobs) somewhat, and it will stave off truly awful consequences and cuts in important programs, but it does nothing to address the structural problems that got us here or make our economy any more sustainable. Doing that will require the sort of vision and political courage that's become vanishingly rare in the state capitol.

So think about this sales-tax vote, and the political failures behind it, when you're considering your votes in September and November. We desperately need serious, high-quality people in office, across the board. Don't settle for party labels, slogans or your pet issues. Seek out the public forums, get in close and talk to the candidates so you can gauge them as people. Do the research necessary to learn what they've done in the past and, importantly, how they've done it. Then gather up your own political courage and vote for those who exhibit intelligence, maturity, strength of character and real concern for the community.

Let's aim higher this time.

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