We Get the Society We Pay For
By Sedona City Councilor Jessica Williamson
Sedona AZ (April 25, 2013) – We have government because we want to live in a civilized, organized, fair society. Governments create the structure in which we as human beings can develop and thrive. Here in America, government is often characterized as bloated, inefficient, wasteful, and generally no damn good. It takes peoples’ hard earned money and wastes it on dumb programs and on people who don’t deserve it. Government employees are lazy and overpaid, and government needs to be drastically cut back. To invoke government is to invite derision.
If government is so pernicious, why does every functioning country have one? Why do we hate our government?
Distrust of government has always been with us, and a wary stance towards the power of government is warranted. It’s smart to keep an eye on government to make sure it doesn’t abuse its power. But Americans seem genuinely confused about what government does and doesn’t do. The protest sign reading, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” is astounding on its face. The man holding that sign apparently didn’t know that Medicare is entirely administered by the federal government and that the cost of administering Medicare is much less than the costs racked up by private insurance companies, which makes government in this case more efficient than private industry.
On a local level, we generally seem to agree that government should provide fire and police protection, maintain roads, and perhaps create some parks or open space. After that, things get fuzzy. Should government financially support not-for-profit organizations? The library? A creek walk? Should we enclose the community pool or buy back the cultural park or support public transportation?
A lot of the rhetoric underlying our contempt for government is about taxes – apparently no one wants to pay them. The city of Sedona has no local property taxes, and the property taxes we pay are for the most part for the school and fire districts. City of Sedona government is mostly supported by sales taxes, which are paid by residents and visitors alike. No one wants to pay them, but as Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.”
It comes down to what kind of society we want to live in and are willing to pay for. It costs money to build and maintain sidewalks and streets, develop drainage systems to prevent flooding, educate our children, create parks and trails, and invest in technology. More and more it seems we’re not willing to pay it forward. We used to be, because people saw value in investing in the future of their community. The question is always whether or not we’re willing to tax ourselves to pay for that future.
The ideas expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the thoughts or opinions of the City Council.
Jessica, you’re right on! We keep hearing people say “Why dontcha” and “The City oughta do this and that” or “Why does the City let ’em do that?” But in the next breath the same people will complain about “too many laws” and “too many taxes.”
Most of this is due to ignorance of what municipalities can and can’t do under some of Arizona’s strange state laws. They don’t even understand that the City has no property tax at all!
Many people just don’t pay attention to what’s real; they’d rather complain. Some complaints come from people in the Village, who don’t know they don’t live in Sedona.
It’s up to the City to do everything feasible to keep people informed, and Sedona does a great job of that, but it’s difficult to protect everyone from their own indifference.
Libraries, art and historical museums, parks, concerts, theatre, education all contribute to the quality of life in a community. It is through these organizations that we experience what it was like to live in past civilizations and have a sense of who we are today.
Civilized societies have realized an obligation to provide for these services.
The economic benefits of attracting visitors to Sedona support our way of life here.
Smart cities invest knowing millions of dollars are returned by those who attend both residents and guests.
The supporting data is available.
I sure agree with you here, Jessica! Without secure infrastructure services (power, mail, schools, roads and bridges, police, fire etc) which allow for a secure business and personal environment we shortchange ourselves and our society. In fact we’ve already done it, allowing all that infastructure to deteriorate over the past 33 years and leading the US downward. Our choices are limited – do we want to turn into a third world country, where the rich and powerful get what they want by paying for it for themselves alone?
Why else have innumerble wealthy homes installed automatic generators to supply power during storm failures (quite common in DE, NJ and NY), because of inadequate outdated infrastructure. How about gated neighborhoods paying for their own fire and police security services? How about the proliferation of private schools (that don’t have to meet public standards)? Having seen these sorts of personal amenities in 3rd world countries, I realize that we are forgetting the common good heading toward the third world.
One of the great ideas of this country post WWII especially is the rise of a secure middle class, class mobility, and a vibrant cultural environment.That is no longer the case. Not only are we misguidedly supporting ignorance by not supporting public education at all levels, we, ourselves, are fueling our own decline. Remember it is ‘blue-sky’ research funded originally by government many years ago (computers, satellite dishes, medical research etc etc) and then picked up by corporations that has helped the US attain its status. As Jessica says, we get what we pay for and time is running out.
In Sedona the City staff gets the society we pay for. In my opinion, marginalization of residents and non-Chamber small businesses is one major reason there is so much divisiveness here.