Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Civil Discourse

The Rotterdam Town Board conducted a public hearing last week regarding the proposed new tax district. The room was filled with plenty of concerned citizens with differing views on the subject. What really made this meeting significant in my mind was the constructive nature of it. Many people spoke up. Views were expressed passionately. Several different suggestions were offered. It was an informative encounter, and I think, a productive exchange of ideas. That was possible because it seemed that people were listening to each other. If we want to find lasting solutions, then it has to begin by respecting the views of those that disagree with you. Civil discourse is an essential element to effectively solving not only this problem, but every problem and sadly, that kind of discourse is usually elusive. The other night everyone seemed to appreciate the seriousness of the issue at hand and the need to find an acceptable solution. When all is said and done, I’m confident we’ll find that solution. No one has a monopoly on being “right” and if we really want to make progress on the difficult issues facing us then we’re going to have to be able to respectfully explore all the alternatives available to find the best path forward.

Below is a copy of the remarks I delivered at the public hearing expressing what I think is the best path forward on one of those difficult issues.


A. I support REMS remaining as our ambulance provider under the right conditions.

B. I DO NOT support a tax district to accomplish that objective.

While I admire and appreciate the effort and dedication that the new administration of REMS and others have demonstrated in their progress toward improving financial affairs at REMS, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in town are against paying more taxes.

Currently, we’re assisting REMS through the general fund – in essence, our current tax dollars have been reallocated to provide this support. That is an approach that appears to be working and I support it in the short-term. In the longer term, I’d prefer to see REMS become self-sufficient.

As a community, I think we all agree that REMS provides a vital public safety service and as a result, we rightly have provided financial assistance through the General Fund. Yes, of course, that’s your tax dollar. But it is a reallocation of your CURRENT tax dollar, not a new tax. IF, as a community, we are in agreement that REMS provides a VITAL, NECESSARY function, then General Fund assistance is the appropriate approach. I believe that approach provides better transparency and accountability than a new tax district would. I also think it allows for quicker financial adjustments to be made if necessary to maintain public safety.

I don’t think we should be in a rush to increase the tax burden, and in no way do I mean to imply that you have not considered matters carefully. But I don’t accept the underlying premise being made about what the tax district will ultimately cost.

---If the cost is expected to be so minimal, then why is the tax district necessary at all?

---If the cost is expected to rise, then isn’t the new tax just as likely to annually increase?

---Lastly, and importantly, does it make sense to create a dedicated revenue stream at this juncture to support an organization in undisputed financial peril? Doesn’t that actually provide a disincentive to manage finances efficiently going forward, knowing there is a tax that could simply be raised instead?

Aside from either of these two approaches is the approach of possible privatization. To ignore it and then lock out the option in perpetuity through the creation of a tax district is a bad move, in my opinion. At the very least, it needs to be considered and explored further. That’s called due diligence.

The overwhelming sentiment expressed to me as I’ve gone throughout town is people can’t afford another tax. At the very least, any further consideration of a tax district should occur through a referendum allowing direct consent of the people. If it takes a referendum to abolish a tax district, then it certainly ought to take a referendum to create one. I’m heartened to learn that a referendum will now be part of any eventual decision.

I don’t think there is a person in this room that questions the importance of reliable ambulance service. There probably isn’t a person in this room that questions the determination of REMS to straighten out their financial difficulties. There’s a lot of fear being peddled with regard to this issue. No one should be afraid. REMS does and is doing a great job for us. I’m confident we can figure out the best approach without compromising public safety or creating a new tax district…because the people need and expect us to.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Guest Post: Two-Party Paradox

by Damon Eris of Poli-Tea Party

One of the more perplexing paradoxes engendered by the politics of the two-party system is the lack of all proportion between the number of independents among the people of the United States and the number of independents among our elected representatives. A significant plurality of Americans consistently identify themselves as independents, rather than Republicans or Democrats, when queried as to their party affiliation. Nationwide, almost 40% of Americans consider themselves to be independents, according to recent polls. In some states, such as Utah, among others, Republicans and Democrats taken together do not constitute an absolute majority of the population. In government, however, almost 99% of elected officials are beholden to the Democratic and Republican Parties. If millions of voters nationwide do not identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats, or with the Republican and Democratic Parties, with their means, their ends, or both, why are we only represented by officials who do? Confronted with this question, partisans of the major parties, many of whom are themselves dissatisfied with the political status quo, are often quick to assert the brute fact of the two-party system: we are represented by Democrats and Republicans, rather than independents and third party advocates, because we have a two-party system, they say. In other words, we have a two-party system because we have a two-party system. And because we have a two-party system, the argument continues, we have to work within the Republican and Democratic Parties, or simply accept the reigning Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government, if we desire to effect political change. Perhaps one might object here that this is nothing but a straw man argument. But is this not the exact logic by which millions of Americans resign themselves to voting for the lesser of two evils, when they are not simply voting against the greater of two evils, election after election? Otherwise principled liberals, conservatives, progressives and libertarians thus find themselves compromised by one party before they even confront the other, defeated from the outset by an ideological tautology.

Ironically, among the illusions that sustain the two-party system is the illusion that we have a two-party system. The US Constitution mandates no party system whatsoever; the framers where highly suspicious of what they called the "spirit of faction." The reigning Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government is rather an extra-constitutional political convention. In many ways it is little more than a fiction. At the local, state, and federal level, polities across the country are effectively dominated by a one-party system of government in which the Republican or Democratic Party has a virtual monopoly on seats for elected office. Yet, at the same time, there is always some level of independent and third party activity bubbling underneath the surface of the political status quo. Take the Northeast, for example. With the demise of Rockefeller Republicanism, it is considered a Democratic stronghold, at least for now. But there is strong evidence of independent resistance to the reigning two-party order, as such, in every state of the region, from the local to the federal level: in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Nor is such movement confined to the Northeast; promising independent campaigns for office are taking shape in Arkansas and Idaho, for instance.

Recognizing that the Democratic and Republican Parties are no longer effective vehicles for political representation, but have rather become obstacles to effective political representation, many people say they would consider voting for a "viable" third party or independent candidate for office.Though it may not be entirely correct to say that there is an independent movement taking shape in the United States, citizens from across the ideological spectrum are declaring their independence from the two-party system. But this is only the first step. If we only consider Republicans and Democrats to be viable candidates for office, then there will be no viable independent or third party candidates for office. The true measure of an independent is not whether he or she sometimes votes for Republicans and sometimes votes for Democrats, as partisans of the duopoly parties and their enablers in the media would have us believe, but rather, whether they vote for independent and third party candidates for office. The people can impose term limits on Democrats and Republicans any time we like: we must simply cease voting for them against our better judgment.