Monday, February 08, 2010

Snow and dough

As I shoveled our driveway this morning, the snowplows came rumbling through. (Bear with me -- the point I'm trying to make is not region-specific). Now we don't normally get a lot of snow in Virginia, so the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), forced to do cutbacks and layoffs, blew through its snow removal budget during the first big snow in December. And we've had two since.

VDOT has promised to keep up their round-the-clock snow removals efforts despite the lack of funds, and the Governor has promised to use some emergency funds to cover the cost.

Now here's the thing. Our newly elected governor continually promised no new taxes and to actively cut existing taxes (despite a budgetary shortfall of 1.35 billion dollars). It was an appealing stance for the electorate, the most outspoken of which wanted the government out of their wallets!

OK, but in our own lives, there comes a point where -- if we can't afford it -- we stop doing it. The fiscally responsible thing for VDOT to do would be to simply stop operations when the money ran out.

Not a popular option. So how about the second most fiscally responsible thing to do, which would be to ask the population of the Commonwealth to pony up the money needed to keep the streets clear?

A back of the envelope calculation indicates that the added expense (25 million dollars) divided among the citizenry (7.7 million) means each person should kick in $3.24. Let's be even fairer and limit it to the Commonwealth's 5 million licensed drivers -- the primary users of said cleared roads. That would be about $5.00. Still not a budget-busting figure for many.

Now there are many other public services in the same position as VDOT -- and if we divvy up everyone's shortfall into the number of citizens, the bill starts getting into serious numbers -- sort of. Our 1.35 billion-dollar shortfall could be covered with $175 from every citizen of the state, or about $14.00 a month.

And that's really my point. It seems the current political discussion are all about eliminating taxes and cutting taxes. But that doesn't recognize the reality -- taxes collectively pay for the services that benefit the community and fund them far beyond the level any individual could afford.

I can't think of many people who could get their street plowed for $5.00 if they had to hire someone -- but $5.00 times 7.7 million people gets all the roads in the state cleared.

So how about we move the discussion away from how to eliminate taxes -- which gives us even less resources for the services we need -- and instead focus on what should services we should be funding?

Would I be willing to pay an extra $5.00 to ensure the roads stayed plowed? You bet.

How about adequately funded schools, or emergency services? Would I be willing to pay a little extra for them? How much is a properly staffed police force worth, or social services?

Something to think about as the snowplows rumble past, moving mountains of white aside, operating in the red partially because we demanded they do their part while we refuse to do ours.

- Ralph

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