Ask Auntie Pinko
February 9, 2006
By Auntie Pinko
I live in the very red state of Virginia, who as you probably
know just elected a Democratic governor (thank goodness). Of course,
Republicans are now out in force writing letters to the editor whining
about taxes, especially since Governor Kaine is talking about raising
taxes for transportation initiatives. I would really appreciate
it if you could provide a succinct, talking points type rebuttal
to the Republicans' constant anti-tax rhetoric, which they use to
beat Democrats over the head. I frequently write letters to the
editor, many of which have been published. I would very much like
to address this issue in one of my letters and could use some help
with an effective concise argument. After all, it's one of the big
reasons people give for voting Republican - you know "those tax
and spend liberals."
Virginia from Virginia
Gee, it's nice for Auntie to have an easy one to answer from time
to time! So many of my readers' questions involve highly complex,
ideologically and philosophically ambiguous issues that can't be
addressed in a quick, catchy, and cogent answer. It gets a little
discouraging, hoping that all the carefully-laid out, many-paragraph
answers are understood and effective. But this one - easy! Here's
your answer, Virginia:
"Tax-and-spend Democrats are more responsible and better
for the state's budget and citizens than borrow-and-spend Republicans
who leave our children and grandchildren with crushing debt burdens."
Gosh, wasn't that easy? Catchy, too. "Borrow-and-spend Republicans."
Just keep reminding people. What's the smarter option, when you
can't reduce your expenses (rarely an option at the state level)?
a) Paying as you go so that people have to have an honest discussion
of priorities about transportation, correctional services, education,
b) letting people think they can have their cake and eat it, too
- build prisons, repair highways, keep universities open and
have lower taxes, all the while piling up debt and/or trashing the
state's bond rating, with an ugly day of reckoning in the offing?
Nevertheless, appealing as this argument may be, Auntie is going
to ask you to consider something else altogether, Virginia.
Reasoning by analogy is always chancy, but think of the state
as a family who live in an older, poorly-insulated house with an
inefficient heating system, have two elderly, fuel-inefficient cars,
and no health insurance. Let's say they have one child in college,
one child in high school, one in primary school, and Mom is pregnant
again and has had to cut her work hours. Dad makes good money, and
they have a savings account they've earmarked to help the kids with
college and, hopefully, to retire someday. They sometimes spend
money foolishly - overpriced designer clothes, vacations, and dining
out, but as their heat bills have gone up and the car repair and
college bills have been coming in, they've already cut down a lot
on those expenses, though not eliminated them altogether.
Mom calls a family meeting one day to lay out the bad news: they
have more bills than they can pay, the furnace is making funny noises,
one of the cars broke down again and repairs will be expensive,
and the primary schooler needs braces. The family starts arguing:
"Well, if Andrea weren't in college, we'd be able to pay for Jim's
"Jim will just have to wait for his braces, Andrea will be out
of college in a couple of years!"
"We should just take all the money out of our savings account and
pay the bills, and hope we can replenish the savings account when
Mom goes back to work full-time!"
"We need to stop eating out altogether, never take another vacation,
and shop at the thrift store for our clothes!"
"Let's just take out another credit card and put the repairs and
the braces on that!"
Each family member making their particular argument also trashes
everyone else's argument and refuses to consider any other alternatives,
and the family meeting breaks up with everyone mad at everyone else,
and no decisions about how to deal with the immediate financial
crisis, much less the long-term issues hanging over them.
Does that help illuminate the flaws in how the discussion of state
financial management is being conducted? People who reduce the discussion
to platitudes like "tax and spend" or even "borrow and spend" (mea
culpa!) are actually doing the people of Virginia a great disservice.
The state's budget is part of a complex financial structure that
has to address both short- and long-term needs of Virginia's citizens,
and cover a huge array of needs, all of which are important and
valid to some Virginian(s). Focusing on immediate, short-term, "hot
button" issues only digs the state deeper into a dangerous hole
that threatens the future of Virginia's children.
Rather than perpetuating the pointless "tastes great/less filling"
argument, Virginia, why not raise your voice and challenge all
your elected representatives, Democratic and Republican, to forego
the partisan posturing and be realistic with voters?
Democrats and Republicans both need to accept that some
spending they cherish will need to be cut. Republicans and Democrats
both need to make unpopular concessions that some spending not only
can't be cut, but will have to be increased if the state isn't to
end up in a worse hole tomorrow. Democrats and Republicans both
will have to stop promising voters lollipops in the form of tax
cuts and/or popular new initiatives, and talk honestly about unglamorous
necessities. Republicans and Democrats both will need to give up
the opportunity to score political points off each other and work
cooperatively for the benefit of all Virginians.
But it will never happen unless voters like you tell them that's
what you really want, Virginia. Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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