Thursday, October 23, 2008

War and taxes: just a thought

I don't disagree with kavips that when GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee announces that he will oppose all tax increases if elected governor that the Judge is simply repeating a comfortable mantra without thinking through the consequences of his position.

However, I think I would argue that kavips is guilty of some of the same failure of imagination:

So what does Lee’s pledge of “no taxes” do to this state?

It starves it… Road Repairs… forget about it… New schools,…. forget about it….More policemen…. forget about it… Prisoner health care… forget about it… Better testing …. forget about it.. environmental protection… forget about it… cancer studies…. forget about it… Bluewater Wind… forget about it… subsidies to build wind and solar… forget about it… Lower costs for Delaware children to attend Delaware’s Colleges and Universities.. forget about it..

Respectfully, I submit that this is as much a knee-jerk, talking point-type response as the original comment by Bill Lee.

Why? Because while, even as a Libertarian, I can find uses and justification for certain forms of taxation, I take a position about taxes similar to that of our Framers on the issue of war. Let's argue by analogy for a moment.

Contrary to the European tradition (exemplified by Karl von Clausewitz) wherein war was considered to be a legitimate extension of statecraft and foreign policy ("politics ... by other means"), most of the American Framers had a quite different view--especially James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe.

Except in cases wherein the US had been directly attacked, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe saw war not as a legitimate extension of policy, but as the failure of policy. War was what you did when legitimate policy had failed you, and you lacked the imagination to do anything better. War was therefore not only the failure of policy, but the failure of leaders.

Today, sadly, since 1945, we have accepted the European idea of using military force as an extension of foreign policy--and look where it has gotten us.

Now back to taxes. Except for those elements obviously mandated in the US Constitution, I would argue as a general rule that taxation represents the failure of political imagination. When you either (a) can't or be (b) won't spend the time to think about alternatives, you employ the coercive power of the state to take peoples' money away from them to pursue domestic policy agendas.

My evidence? Look at kavips own list of items in the paragraph at the top that we will supposedly lose without raising taxes in Delaware:

Road repairs? How about we address the issue of the state legislature persistently looting the transportation trust fund, the perennially questionable manner in which money already in the system is now wasted in our "good buddies" and "prevailing wage" bidding process?

New schools? The LEAD report identified tens of millions of dollars in savings under the existing funding system, including the elimination of the prevailing wage system for school construction. Do we need new schools? Interesting question. Some districts have the habit of making themselves appear as choice magnets, accepting hundreds of new students from outside their boundaries, putting up trailers to house them, and then crying to the State that they need more money to build more school buildings. There are a lot more complicated issues here than just the failure to raise taxes. Delaware is already among the top seven states in per-pupil expenditures on public education, yet we (a) can't actually document how much of that reaches the classroom or (b)decide on legal requirements that a certain percentage of that money must be employed in the classroom. Instead of arguing that failure to raise taxes is failing our students, let's examine the waste at DOE, the duplicative purchasing structures within 19 school districts, and the impact of choice on infrastructure requirements.

More policemen? kavips, we already have twice as many police officers per capita as California. If we have crime problems, let's look at other solutions first. Several recent studies have suggested strongly that most of the rise in urban crime is not due to lack of police or too many guns, but due to the Federal war on drugs. But we'd much rather talk about raising taxes to put more police on the streets than substantively discuss the failure of America's drug war on her own citizens, wouldn't we?

Better testing? I think you mean education testing (although it could be environmental given the next item). Frankly, kavips, the DSTP was a boondoggle of misspent taxpayer money from the word Go, and I speak as someone who was a close witness to the process. DOE spent millions of dollars to develop science and math tests that were essentially a re-invention of the wheel since nationally normed tests already existed; ditto for reading and language arts. Our Social Studies test is nationally infamous for a History component that does not test History. All of these tests were the results of huge amounts of taxpayer doolars spent indiscriminately when, for about 5% of what we spent, DOE could have acquired the licenses to use existing, well-respected tests from other places. The linkage of the DSTP to NCLB, by the way, [which will prevent either Markell or Lee from simply doing away with the DSTP as promised in campaigns] is purely a case of our own DOE shooting itself in the foot. We didn't have to link the DSTP so closely to NCLB--we just did it. The problem here was not lack of money and never has been.

Environmental protection? How about we actually write some rules that have real, enforceable penalties against polluters, and let them pay for the clean-ups? Suppose anyone opening or operating a chemical plant in DE was required to post a $50 million escrow bond with the state against potential environmental damage, and when such damage was alleged, they had the burden of proof of showing why their money shouldn't be used to clean it up? Moreover, if the corporation tried the usual "go out of business shuffle" to avoid environmental penalties, the State would just keep the dough. That doesn't require new taxes, because if the company doesn't pollute, then we don't spend their money.

Bluewater Wind? and subsidies for alternative energy production? There is definite room for debate on these. I'm all in favor of green energy, BUT.... You have the burden of proof to show me how government subsidies represent the best or only way possible to achieve these outcomes. Make the case, don't just tell me to pass over my money.

Lower university costs? DSU and Del Tech already offer some of the lowest tuition rates in the region, if not the nation. And the SEED program represents the State choosing to benefit some public institutions (Del Tech and UD) over others (DSU) while giving State-supported universities and unfair competitive advantage over our private schools (Wesley, Wilmington, Widener, Goldy Beacom). So the state now takes my tax money to (a) subsidize public universities to the tune of several hundred million per year, AND (b) then turns around and spends millions more to give them an additional competitive edge over private universities, and this is supposed to represent enlightened tax policy? Give me a break.

I am not suggesting I have policy answers for all of these issues. Clearly, I have more questions than answers. But I would submit that neither Bill Lee's position (no new taxes ever) nor yours (we must have new taxes or the state will shrivel and die) represent reasonable policy stands. Both are ideological positions that have nothing to do with the realities of public policy, and yours--in particular--assumes that taxation should always be a first rather than a last resort for solving public problems.

Call me a whacky Libertarian, but I find that as dangerous as I find the current American policy of military interventionism.

The use of coercion as a first choice in policy always represents--at best--a failure of imagination.


tom said...

It as also amusing to see the way Lee's pledge of "oppose all tax increases" turns into "no taxes" in kavips' mind.

Assume for a moment that Bill Lee gets elected and is successful at preventing any tax increases. Does that mean the already bloated state budget goes away? No. It will continue to grow at a rate related to population growth, income growth, and growth of Delaware's GDP.

To the extent that the lack of tax increases makes Delaware's tax structure more attractive to people and businesses than that of the surrounding states, tax revenue may grow faster w/o tax increases than it would with them.

tom said...

btw. if you're not getting any comments on recent articles, it may be because google's interface changes make it difficult to post them.

G Rex said...

New roads? Well, they finally paved over Newark-Elkton Road, or as I refer to it, the Monster Mile. I'm assuming it was to accommodate the expected traffic to the new Home Depot, but I'm enjoying my daily commute regardless.

Anonymous said...

Steve--Kavips is really starting to lose credibility with me on recent posts. I hope it's just the election wearing down that sharp intellect. SEED should go unless there was a banner year in tax revenue, and there's nothing committed to be done.(HaHA) And yes, all higher-ed facilities should be granted equal disbursement of the program. If facilities want and accept a common reimbursement for tuition--or it has been agreed upon as a voucher to be applied to tuition at a different Delaware institution than so be it--but no monopoly needed--and the enrollment can't be handled by those who are involved anyway. But I digress--I'm not for SEED anyway. My taxes are to pay for compulsory public education for minors, as a social responsibility. I do not wish, nor should be expected to pay for somebody else's failure to plan, or lack of budgeting skills, or differenting sense of priority, for Johnny and Jane to go to college. College is not 13th grade. Even though the remediation is mind blowing. I don't want to pay for yours. I saved, and more importantly (and apparently a novel idea--sacrificed)
for mine to go. And now for prevailing wage--how in the hell can a state permit such a surcharge to the taxpayer, when what, only around 20% of the building industry is union aligned? This should be right up there with usary violations. Wish I was savvy enough to direct a legislative attack--because I know only writing about it here, is like shooting a pea gun at the Big Black Rat. Hey, thanks for the sound-off.

kavips said...

I certainly hope the Steve's, Tom's, and g's, and anon's continue to carp upon my posted extravaganzas...

As it now appears....a new path may be chosen by this nation, meaning for some of us, the planning begins on how to make it happen...

No diamond is found in perfect condition.. It is shaved little by little, until the desired result is achieved...

Consider that your comments aimed in my direction are those shavings, done early, so that when presented to our nation, some of the bugs have already been worked out....

Thanks in advance for contributing a little to this great nation... Even if opposed, your opinions are highly valued...