I was really happy to find my ballot in the mailbox last week because it gave me the opportunity to complete decisions I have been contemplating for many weeks.  Returning the ballot to the County fulfilled an important responsibility that will influence not only my life, but the lives of my family in the years ahead.

I know one vote usually doesn’t decide elections, and I also know that many of the candidates or measures I’ve supported over the years were soundly defeated.  Despite my mixed record of success, I continue to believe my small contribution to the democratic process carries much greater weight than the outcome of a particular election.

Voting legitimizes government and makes it a tool of all who participate in the process of sustaining it.  Representative government is an imperfect tool, but it gives us the ability to collectively plan for the future and respond to pressing problems.  Our government, like any tool, can be abused or misused and, like any tool, can be repaired or used more effectively.  Voting is an essential step in controlling and guiding the tool so that it is used to benefit the widest range of people and interests.  I think people who are continually angry at government are those who are unwilling to acknowledge the interests of others by doing the hard work necessary to reconcile differences.  Voting is a small but essential part of that work.

Some people seem to believe that public employees vote as a bloc and only support candidates who promise more resources.  My experience suggests a very different story, where public employees are likely to reflect the values and political beliefs of the communities where they live and work.  Many sources suggest that family is the most important factor in determining an individual’s political affiliation.  In other words, our work is much less likely to influence our vote than the political views of our parents.

Regardless of what influences how we vote, the act of voting is a basic responsibility of citizenship.  Letting apathy or cynicism serve as an excuse for not voting is a victory for autocracy or worse.  Many city managers I’ve known through the years have lost their jobs as the result of an election, but I believe all of them would vigorously defend the system (not necessarily the people) that led to their termination.  I don’t expect to lose my job as a result of the upcoming election, although I made an agreement with myself many years ago to respect the judgment of the elected officials who are my bosses even if that judgment means my departure.  Many people have given much more than their jobs to protect our right to vote.  We owe them our commitment to the ideals they sacrificed for by simply exercising that right.

“I’m Gonna Hire a Wino…”

I reported a few weeks ago that I had to buy a new car after my old one broke down on a trip to Bend.  The new car came with a “free” subscription to Sirius satellite radio, and I have been enjoying the change from my standard fare of public radio mixed with an aging collection of CD’s. 

My wife and I have different musical tastes, but she has usually been gracious in tolerating my preference for folk, rock, and alternative sounds.  She likes people like Susan Boyle and Barbara Streisand, so it’s a stretch for her to listen to John Prine.  The addition of Sirius has really tested the limits of her tolerance, although it seems to appeal to her sense of humor.

I stumbled across a station called “Willie’s Road House” shortly after we bought the car, and I now have a new appreciation for country music I used to dismiss as awful.  I’m not sure I think the music is any better than I thought it was 30 years ago, but the titles and lyrics are really funny.  My favorite so far is “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goalposts of Life,” by Bobby Bare.  The chorus begins with the words in the title, and my favorite verses go as follows:

Take all the brothers who’ve gone on before
And all of the sisters who’ve knocked on your door
All the departed dear loved ones of mine
Stick’em up front in the offensive line.

Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

I haven’t decided whether I want to be drop kicked into heaven, but I like the fact that the song seems to justify all those hours I’ve spent watching football.  I now tell my wife I’ve just been spiritually preparing myself while watching the Ducks.

Another great song I heard for the first time recently is, “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home.”  This ballad tells the story of a wife who is apparently dismayed by her husband’s tendency to come home late after spending time with his buddies at local watering holes.  The wife proposes the following solution:

I’m gonna hire a wino to decorate our home,
So you’ll feel more at ease here, and you won’t have to roam.
We’ll take out the dining room table, and put a bar along that wall
And a neon sign, to point the way, to our bathroom down the hall.

My wife and I have had fun discussing many of the new songs we’ve heard; and, most importantly, they’ve given us some opportunities to laugh together.  I am too cheap to pay for a subscription to satellite radio when our six-month free trial expires, and I assume I will have heard nearly every country song ever written by the end of that time anyway.  I have learned something about testing old assumptions and being open to different ways of looking at things.  I may even try out the jazz station before heading back to NPR, but I’m drawing the line at hip hop.

Are We the Most Heavily Taxed People in the World?

A few weeks ago, the director of our local economic development corporation sent out an e-mail from a private “think tank” alleging that U.S. corporations pay the highest taxes in the world.  I had recently seen an article with data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) disputing this claim and asserting that the effective U.S. corporate tax rate was substantially lower than that of most developed nations.  I promptly sent that information to our development corporation’s e-mail list, only to become engaged in a debate which, from my perspective, has a small chance of a satisfactory conclusion.

People, like me, who believe that U.S. businesses and citizens pay total tax bills comparable to or less than those of our counterparts around the developed world are persuaded by a range of data and studies that support this point of view.  The business person who makes the tax payment every year and believes it to be unreasonable is informed by his/her own experience and a different set of studies reinforcing this belief.  The Internet makes it very easy to find information to support either point of view.

Unfortunately, there is no grand arbiter of international tax burdens; so I’m not likely to change my mind any time soon, and I’m reasonably certain the other parties to the debate will not change theirs. The usual result of these disputes is that both sides decide the other side is deluded by their own self-interest and is therefore wrong.  A good debate, however, should cause those who hold different beliefs to consider the possibility that the opposing point of view may have merit.

I have seen substantial evidence from sources I trust that U.S. businesses and citizens are not the most heavily taxed people in the world and are probably not even in the top ten.  I am willing to concede I really don’t know with absolute certainty that this information is correct, but I’m unwilling to accept at this point that it’s wrong.  The brief e-mail debate of the past few days has convinced me to look at the issue more closely.

The question of relative tax burdens may not seem to be of critical importance, given that most of us won’t be having much individual influence on the issue in the near future.  Our collective judgment is important, however, because if we choose to tax ourselves too heavily we will stifle investment, while if we tax too lightly we will not be able to afford the services and infrastructure necessary to support the world’s largest economy.  Additionally, we run the risk of driving business away if owners believe they are too heavily taxed, whether they really are or not.

I know I won’t settle the issue by acknowledging the need for more information, but I do know I’ve learned from the recent exchange and will continue to provide the counterpoint when I believe there is benefit to seeing an issue from a different perspective.