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Paying for government

Conservatives constantly beat the “no taxes” drum. They attack Democrats as “tax and spend” liberals. Whenever there is a shortfall their response is to cut spending; it is never to increase revenues. And they have been getting their way. Government spending is down. The sequester is firmly in place and it’s going to be tough to get it reversed. The pressure from the far right never stops. They shut the government down for over two weeks and showed no sign of remorse for the pain caused. Their only hint of unease was over the possibility that it damaged them politically. They get giddy with anticipation at the chance to do it again in a couple of months and start to hyperventilate over the possibility that they might actually get the US to default on its debts.

I live in the reasonably progressive state of Washington and in a funny, oddly balanced district in Whatcom County — the most northwesterly county in the lower 48. We routinely vote for the Democrats in higher offices. We went for Obama and Senators Murray and Cantwell. We backed Democrats Gregoire and Inslee for governor. Our Congressman was moderate Democrat Rick Larsen till they redistricted us but we stayed true to form and elected Suzan DelBene, another moderate Democrat.

Oddly, we have elected conservatives to all three state offices. Our state senator is Doug Ericksen, a stalwart conservative and ALEC member. Our two representatives are Vincent Buys and Jason Overstreet — the former is a conservative who seems to be trying to be reasonable, the latter is a right-winger whose positions are so extreme that they make some in the local Tea Party uncomfortable. Overstreet is out there on the far right wing with national figures like Senator Ted Cruz, think tank President Jim DeMint, Governor Rick Scott and far, far too many others. Does Overstreet think like these ideologues? Do they think like he does? Cruz is supposed to be a smart guy with Princeton and Harvard degrees. Scott made millions in business and we all know that means you have to be clever and smart. Would it be asking too much to expect some measure of coherency from them? Would it be unfair to call them on some of their positions, like on taxes, spending, running government? Well, I’m never going to get a chance to chat up Cruz or DeMint but Overstreet is within reach.

In fact, I’ve had several chances to chat with him, once when I was part of a lobbying group seeking to overturn that idiotic state law criminalizing playing poker online and then again when he ran for re-election. I asked him about taxes. His response was right out of the “Bagger’s” play book for he is a proud signer of the Norquist pledge to never raise taxes. He’s so committed to this position that he rejected out of hand the argument that legalizing online poker would be a bonus because it would raise revenues for the state.

“You’re saying you want to tax the game,” he said. “I’m against any form of taxation.”

“No,” I replied. “It wouldn’t tax the game. It would tax the company that runs the game.”

“I am against all taxes,” he repeated.

“But,” I tried again, “These wouldn’t be new taxes. They’d just be the kinds of taxes businesses pay anyway.”

“Sorry,” he smiled (he does have an engaging smile). “I cannot back any legislation that includes taxation.”

“Okay,” I said realizing I had no chance to get through here. “How do you feel about fees?”


“Yeah, fees. And nuisance levies, rising property tax rates, increased water and electrical costs, add-ons for the purchase of liquor, cigarettes, candy.”


“Well, Jason,” (I shifted from constituent appealing to my elected representative to professor lecturing a particularly dense student), “in case you haven’t noticed things still have to get done, services need to be provided. If you won’t raise taxes in the standard way they’re gonna get raised in other ways.”

“I already told you Arthur,” (we were now clearly best buds and on a first name basis!), “I signed the Norquist pledge never to raise taxes.”

“Ah yes. So you said. But by your inaction on taxes you have raised taxes, and the worst kind.”

“Huh?” (Perplexity swam across his face.)

“In order to keep government going government has stepped in and generated the needed revenue, bypassing you and the rest of your tax-resistant friends in Olympia.”

“I don’t understand. I’ve never done anything that would increase taxes.”

“But you have. Sales taxes have gone up. The new liquor law carried a huge increase in the taxation on liquor. There’ve been boosts in nuisance taxes on all kinds of purchases and we have among the nation’s highest gasoline taxes.”

“I wasn’t in office when that happened,” he bleated.

“Fair enough, but you were when the county boosted property tax rates. When the filing fees for any project were increased, when driver’s licenses got more expensive, when construction permits went up … way up, when what look like minor charges began appearing on things like septic tank inspections or wetlands surveys.”

“Huh?” (Perplexity was being replaced by a look I’d seen before I retired — panic and a compelling desire to get away, far away.) “I didn’t have anything to do with those.”

“But you did. Because you have refused to raise taxes, taxes have been raised. And guess who’s paying these taxes.”

“Huh? Who?”

“The people who can least afford them. The poor, the middle-class homeowners, the farmers in your district, the small business owners — the people you claim you went to Olympia to help.”

“Well, I do help them,” he said, seeming to recover a bit. “I help them by keeping taxes down. I told you so many times Arthur that I thought you’d heard me. I am resolutely against any new taxes.”

“Well then, thanks for your time Jason. I guess I’ll see you at the next Tea Party rally.”

“Really? You attend those?”

“Of course. I’ve read Sun Tzu.”

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