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Democracy in action

08/30/2007

By Olin Potter

That disastrous bridge collapse in Minnesota has provided an excellent example of how our form of democracy functions.

Our rescue crews responded with alacrity along with on-the-scene individuals to provide emergency service saving those that needed immediate aid. Then the politicians say, "Here's a chance to get some free notoriety," and suddenly notice that, "hey who's responsible -- that should have been fixed." The next thing they figure is maybe we can work this around to getting more tax money to spread amongst my constituents and help me get reelected.

Up goes a hew and cry for more money, not just for the state of  Minnesota but the idea spreads to those in politics in all the other states as well as those controlling the federal coffers. They then ask themselves, "Where can we get the millions (billions) needed?" Why, the federal and state gasoline taxes, of course! We'll just add a few cents more and no one will care and everything will be hunky-dory. Then they can thump their chests and say, "See what I've done for you?" Some are even brazen enough to suggest as much as a five percent increase.

So, what's wrong with this scenario? Many things. All states have their own transportation line-item in their budgets which is supposed to be funded by the state's own gasoline tax. So, don't they inspect their bridges and make road improvements? Yes, to a certain extent, but in many cases, like here in Vermont, much of the money is often transferred out to social programs that are more likely to foster fuzzy warm feelings in the hearts of constituents to make reelection more likely, until the next disaster strikes and becomes important to the politicians; by that time of course, people will have forgotten who was responsible for the proper use of the designated funds.

Now, the Federal Transportation Fund is the prime target for the shady use of the pork barrel and earmarking scenarios. These schemes are used by all with enough seniority, or who know someone who has, to slip in funding for their own pet projects. This maneuver circumvents the normal democratic method of discussion and recorded voting. Our own congress people are not immune to this procedure. When Bernie was asked about the money for the Little River Dam repair, if it could be pork, he said, "I don't hear anyone complaining about it." Of course all of this is aimed at one thing: get reelected. All states share in the largess distributed by the federal government from their transportation fund which is supported by another gasoline tax and is supposed to be used for road maintenance, etc. Recently, the federal strings on its designated use have become optional, which is again a means of diversion from what the taxpayers thought they were paying for.

So, what can be done? There is plenty of tax money now. We have waste, fraud and abuse in many programs, both state and federal. Eliminate duplicate, overlapping and unneeded programs. Stop those existing programs that take self-reliance away from those who depend upon state and federal largesse that can help themselves. Vote out of office all of our officials that insist that the way to cure a governmental problem is to raise more tax money before addressing the waste.

Our form of democracy has been manipulated like this for years but has recently gotten much worse. Example, pork last year rose to over $20,000,000 and continues to expand each year, but as Churchill reminded us, our form of democracy is not very nice, but consider the alternatives!

Olin Potter lives in Waitsfield.
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