Editorial – Poor, broke government

Jeff Burgar

So, go start some local clubs to raise money to help balance government budgets?

That was sort of the idea, as reported last week in this newspaper, suggested by one of the regulars at Angie Walker’s coffee shop in High Prairie.

There is a whole lot of interesting things going on with such an idea. In fact, the idea deserves not just a column, but pages and pages of discussion and reasoning. Maybe even a book or two! Alas, we only have this tiny space here.

To begin, let’s assume a project, like a new swimming pool. Everybody pitches in raising money. It’s a popular idea. So popular it’s put on a ballot. People in one neighbourhood vote to pay a special tax to build the pool. Across the road, in the rich neighbourhood, there is no need. They have lots of cash. They pay their share upfront. In the end, we get many different mixes of who is paying.

Moving forward with our coffee shop idea, in one corner we have pure capitalists. They say let’s go door-to-door getting donations for a pool.

Then we have pure socialists. They argue for forcing people to pay, through their taxes, even if they don’t want a pool. Some would even call this completely democratic if a majority voted for it.

True free enterprisers would say, “Get your money door-to-door or from donations. If supporters want it so bad, they will pay.”

We all know what really happens. As in, if only people who had kids in schools paid for them, most schools would close. If only people who played hockey paid for arenas, most would close. We never vote on this. Instead, we have a round-about way of voting in governments who make even bigger promises of schools, hospitals, sports and cultural facilities. But never direct votes about class sizes, or courses of study, or dialysis, or soccer.

Are you getting a picture of just how complicated this whole discussion can be made? In a snap, we can go from the principle of “user pay” to “children can be subsidized, but adults pay their own way.”

From “taxes pay a bit,” to “taxes pay everything”. From “you know best how to spend your own money,” to “we know best how to spend your money.” From “please donate willingly,” to “give us your money and shut up.”

And, as the coffee shop patron suggested, when your taxes aren’t enough, “Get off your butt. Go out and raise some more money so we can keep on spending.”

That’s an unkind way of repeating what he said, but that’s what he meant.

Politicians too often think taxpayers are an endless source of money. They never have to raise money themselves. But they get to decide how to spend it. Taxpayers usually just suck it up and pay. There are still limits. As in, nobody is going to work hard raising money without confidence whoever spends it will do so thoughtfully.

Clubs and groups almost always have such confidence in their leaders. Do we have confidence in political leaders who seem to never miss a trip or find a new or old way to spend more money? Not so much. Yet we still have ideas like forming clubs to raise cash.

So, what the heck is in that guy’s coffee?

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