March 9, 2012

Small government/failed state

Grover Norquist is most famous for wanting to make government small enough to "drown in a bathtub," an image that haunted many of us as we watched NOLA drown during Katrina. But we are seeing the impact of Norquist's small government-no taxes, ever policy across the country. In Ohio, at least one town is simply going to go out of business if they can't raise taxes. Norquist was asked if he would support raising taxes in the case of a natural disaster. He replied, so a tornado takes your house, how does raising your taxes help you? Yeah, that tells us a lot. No concern for the others who lost their homes. Just how does this effect you?

But the best example is Colorado Springs, Colorado--otherwise known as the home of Focus on the Family, the Air Force Academy, and many other right wing organizations. It is a very conservative town. They are so conservative, they really started the whole "tax payer bill of rights" nonsense. This American Life had a segment the other day, and it is really one you should hear. Turns out Colorado Springs is run primarily through sales taxes--taxes that are very vulnerable to economic changes.

When the recession hit, tourism dropped, and their operating budget sank. It dropped so low they actually stopped mowing city parks, and turned off streetlights. The city floated a tax increase which failed miserably, so the local leaders started pushing solutions such as lowering wages for city workers and cutting benefits. They also privatized many city services. And when the budget was at its lowest, the city actually privatized parks and streetlights. If you wanted your lights on, or trash cans in your city park, you could pay for it.

 Couple of lessons here. One, privatization is really suspicious--at least when the purpose is supposedly to save money. I have never understood that argument. I understand that a private company can pay lower wages, or benefits, perhaps, but the profit margin usually makes up for any difference. And in some cases, our privatized services are more expensive (Xe or Blackwater comes to mind). Using outside firms for expertise? That makes sense. But not if the justification is to save money. That was fairly clear in Colorado Springs. The best example was the landscaping company that took over mowing the parks. The workers made less in wages (though not tremendously so), and had to pay more for fewer benefits. But there was no evidence that it saved the city money. And that was the point, remember? Oh, and they are doing less too. Fewer maintenance projects on older parks. But no evidence it is saving money.

Second, and the part that just struck me to the core, was a conversation between a city leader and a taxpayer on the failed tax increase v. paying for your own streetlights. This guy thanked her for that program and said he had gladly paid $300 for his own streetlights. She pointed out that the tax increase would have meant only $200 out of his pocket, and that would have allowed for all the services to work. Everyone's streetlights working, and all the parks mowed and cleaned up. The guy said he would never vote for a tax increase for government.

 That is the sickness of this anti-government bullshit. This guy was willing to pay more to have less, all because he hates government more than he cares about his fellow man. When those lights were out, it was the more affluent neighborhoods who could afford to pay. The poorer ones were dark, and their parks were brown and dirty. He didn't care about that. All he cared about was himself. This is the "I've got mine, you can fuck off" mentality of the anti-government Republican party. And it makes me a little sick. This is the breakdown of community, at its very basic sense--some kind of shared experience and shared services.


Smitty said...

and said he had gladly paid $300 for his own streetlights. She pointed out that the tax increase would have meant only $200 out of his pocket, and that would have allowed for all the services to work.

There. You. Go.

$300 just for streetlights, or $200 for everything...and he chooses the former.

I'm not going to call it stupid; no, I'll use your term: sickness. It fits better.

steves said...

This reminds me of a book by max Barry called Jennifer Government, which deals with a libertarian dystopia. Everything is privatized. If you get in an accident, you have to pay the EMT's before they work on you. If your house is robbed, then you have to pay the police to investigate.