Monday, December 18, 2006

Running From Taxes

It's conventional wisdom these days that politicians can’t raise taxes and still be re-elected. I’ve heard surveys to the contrary, but it has permeated the national, state and local levels and brought everything into a kind of “finger pointing” grid lock.

It used to be that “taxing” visitors was thought to be a work-around, but recently Governor Romney of Massachusetts reportedly vetoed $25 million in visitor promotion with an eye to running for President of the United States. In community after community where taxes on visitors have been jacked up to absurd levels, there is evidence visitors are rebelling.

A local political expert told me once that surveys show the issue isn’t taxes per se, but the fact that the public no longer associates taxes with the services they receive. Could be we’ve all fallen for the idiotic idea that anything is free. Could be the media’s obsession with amplifying each and every mis-step in government while only rarely amplifying either its own or that of corporations. But I doubt the media is fully responsible or able to reverse this.

The problem may be politicians themselves, who often vilify taxes during campaigns. My personal take is that, to reverse the trend, it will take a group of individuals to run for office on “fixing problems” and playing very straight with the electorate about the cost of the things the public “wants.” Once in office, they need to communicate often and directly with taxpayers about the cost of services and how those costs are being mitigated and how waste is being eliminated.

I believe we have leaders like that. But it will take a lot of courage to deliver these messages and an electorate willing to push aside the usual hyperbole of election campaigns and news media willing to give more exposure to solutions than to rhetoric and smear campaigns.

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