Thanks to the bunches of you who took the time to fill out the survey in the last edition of BBR. Your insights, compliments and gentle criticisms (e.g., “sometimes I just don’t know what your point is”), are really helpful to me as I try to keep (make?) this thing relevant and useful. Thank you.
Here’s some stuff you might like.
Business: Oregon enacted its unique “corporate activity tax” (I put that in quotes because the tax in fact affects anyone who sells over $1 million in Oregon annually and anyone includes, you know, people) effective January 1. It is effective as of January 1, with affected businesses owing the first quarterly payments as of April 30, the problem is the state can’t really tell businesses whether they’re affected and, furthermore, what the amount of the first quarter payment should be. But it’s ok, if taxpayers don’t get it right, under standards that do not yet exist, they’re only subject to fines, penalties, liens and ultimately imprisonment.
Law: I understand that public transportation can be a means of getting people around cities more efficiently than having them in cars. I also understand that, in practice, public transportation is often not primarily a means of transportation but instead primarily a means of political self-celebration among folks who don’t regularly – or ever – use public transportation.
In a system focused upon the efficient transportation of people in urban areas, you probably want to ensure that people who are required to pay fares pay those fares, so those fares can contribute to operating the system (I know that fares are a small but not inconsequential part of most public transit systems). If you’re more into the political theater of it all, you vote to prevent police officers from inquiring about whether someone bought a ticket while within a transit system that requires a ticket. The justification for the bill is apparently to protect riders’ civil rights, but there are lots and lots of other laws, including those enshrined in the U.S. and Oregon Constitutions that provide robust protection for our civil rights whether or not we happen to be riding public transit. Police enforce traffic violations while drivers are protected by those civil rights, it’s not clear why police should not also be able to enforce public transit violations, while riders are also fully protected by the civil rights we all enjoy.
Politics: Let’s take a step back for some perspective, shall we? This is generally how politics works: (1) identify a problem; (2) solve the problem by changing the way government acts. Politicians tend to be pretty good at step (1). When you boil down what elected officials do, it mostly comes down to listening to other people’s problems and sometimes, when there’s a fit between enough or important enough people’s problems and what the official thinks he or she can do about it, they move on to step (2).
Step (2) is where there’s often a disconnect. Take, for example, the “corporate activity tax” discussed above. The problem lawmakers said they were trying to solve was the fact that many of Oregon’s public schools do not do a good job at what ought to be their main job of educating students. Most people agree that this is a problem. The solution people came up with was to hoover a bunch of money into Salem and spend it on stuff related to education. Bend-La Pine School District will receive a bunch of money from the tax and will use it to hire staff. Will this solve the problem of schools educating poorly? Who knows, and as far as I can tell there’s no method in place to even determine what the impact of this spending will be on solving the putative problem of poor education outcomes, either at the state or the local level.
The cap and trade bill is similar. Climate change, which if I have this right boils down to temperatures getting warmer, appears to be a problem. The solution preferred by the governor and most members of the legislature is the cap and trade bill that would, you guessed it, hoover billions of dollars into state coffers, which the state will the distribute to causes it deems worthy. Will it solve the problem? Nope. It will have no impact on temperatures.
The consistent theme here is that the solutions don’t or may not solve the stated problem, but we do know that they do solve one problem that exists in the minds of many who craft the solutions: that the state government and people who work in it and would like to receive money from it would like more money. That’s the one “problem” that the solutions out of Salem solve with ruthless precision and consistency.
Et cetera: This has been a heavy one, so I’ll end with this memo in which Dick Cheney complains about Donald Rumsfeld drinking too much coffee.
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Have a great weekend!