Saturday, February 23, 2008

Now how much would you pay?

You live in a house made of concrete blocks, surrounded by a moat. There is no chance of fire at your address. How much of your taxes should go to pay for firemen?
Perhaps you are an android, with attitude and a permit to carry a concealed weapon. How much of your taxes do you think should go to law enforcement?
Your children were born with membership cards to Mensa, instead of belly buttons. Your six old year is a part-time lecturer for an online university and would be a department chairperson at Harvard but his mom says he's not old enough to cross the street. How many of your tax dollars should go to pay for public education?

None of this is as far-fetched as it reads (okay, actually ALL of this is exactly as far-fetched as it reads, but that's not my point). We form governments to do for us collectively what is difficult to impossible to do for ourselves. I am grateful we have a US military even if I'm disquieted by the way it is currently being used in southwest Asia, as an instance of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

I could never be a fireman as I'd never resist my urge to run from a blaze despite all the others who would run towards it. I could stay behind and pet the Dalmatian, I suppose, but when everyone else got back to the firehouse, there'd be words. I was always supportive of my children's teachers as they made their way through the Norwich (CT) Public School system and through Norwich Free (though not anymore) Academy, but I never had any illusions that every penny of the requested and/or actual budgets for the education system benefited, directly or indirectly, the children themselves. I still smile when I think of what we pay, combined with benefits, for a school superintendent in a system basically without a high school (sorry, Thames Academy, you can call yourself whatever you want, but fifteen years ago your function was inside the walls of NFA until an NPS Superintendent got into a swordfish fight with an NFA Superintendent and about 8% more was added to the school budget to pay for a semi-private high school.)

My point, and thanks for thinking I have one, is that as we approach budget formulation time we need to turn down, or off, that radio station we all listen to, WII-FM (What's In It For Me?) because, as I mentioned earlier, we banded together to create an entity, government, to attempt to take care of the 'many' by balancing those needs against the 'one at a time.' We made a start on this the other night in Norwich, and one of the local newspapers today has an editorial based on its reporter's account of the meeting (where he missed the first twenty-eight minutes. I watched him show up and sit down in the back) that suggests some of us still like "Heroes and Villains" (and it's one of my favorite Beach Boys albums, too) over addressing the problem.

Being an elected official in a small-town is a hard job made a bit more difficult when unelected editorialists, with less than complete information, offer drive-by analysis of a situation they didn't observe. A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
And that is always their answer to my question.
-bill kenny

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