Taxation without trust?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on

I would like to follow up on my post last week regarding the shenanigans (and there really is no other way to describe it) going on in the Lawrence public schools.

I heard from people and the recurring theme in their responses to me and in the comments they left on the blog is one of fundamental distrust.

This doesn’t surprise me. Not only does the mismanagement of the Lawrence public schools at this point appear to be so broad it would be impossible for even the only moderately informed taxpayer not to notice it, but the same theme appears to be playing out at the state level as well.

The state is facing a truly enormous budget gap, both for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30th, and the next. In addition, two of the state’s primary transportation assets – the T and the Pike – are essentially teetering on bankruptcy. New revenue is needed. It is why Pioneer recommended a modest $0.065 increase in the gas tax.

Nevertheless, every time a story emerges about a superintendent like Wilfredo Laboy, who runs his school district like a personal fiefdom, or ones about plum jobs being handed out by the Governor to political supporters, it erodes the trust average citizens have that their state and local governments can spend their money efficiently, making any case elected officials argue to drum up public support for tax increases, which is difficult in the best of circumstances, downright impossible.

I suspect it is one of the reasons for the Governor’s recent, shall we say, less than yeasty poll numbers. And last week the Governor appeared to internalize that message, threatening to veto any sales tax increase unless transportation, pension and ethics reform happened first.

Now, compare that with our President, who, with Congress, is, between the stimulus bill, the remaining TARP money, bail outs of GM and Chrysler, and other appropriations, running up the largest deficit in our country’s history and only threatening to increase it as he turns his attention to tackling health care.

But despite the costs, President Obama’s approval ratings, particularly his personal approval ratings, remain strong. It is partly a matter of the grace period that comes with any honeymoon (though we are past the artificially established 100 day threshold), but more a matter of the fundamental trust our President seems to have engendered in a large swath of the electorate.

Whether or not you agree, right now a majority of American taxpayers appear to trust that, though President Obama is spending a heck of a lot of money, he is spending it on the right things and for the right reasons. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our elected officials closer to home.

Our state and local officials face fiscal deficits, but, before they can seriously tackle them, they need to close the trust deficit.