Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Self Flagellation

OK, it isn’t only the crazed albino monk from The DaVinci Code who occasionally needs to scourge himself to atone for his sins. I have some sins of my own to address, sins of omission and neglect:

First, this blog. Not that I think my pearls of wisdom represent any particular gift to the world, but opening this spot and inviting you all to read it represents a commitment, and it’s one I’ve failed to honor. If there are still any of you out there, please forgive me. If you’ve just joined (or rejoined) this merry ride, I promise to be more diligent in the future: At least 3 posts per week, without fail. Really. I promise.

But the real sin is something bigger: Yesterday, my town voted down its budget referendum... for the second time, and I helped let it happen through my complacency and inaction!

From the mayor's original budget through this second referendum, over three quarters of a million dollars have already been cut, including over $370,000 from the capital improvements budget and over $330,000 from the education budget. And now, with this second rejection, more cuts will be forthcoming. There's speculation that freshman athletics at Rockville High School will have to go, and an anti-tax group is seriously suggesting that the high school delete AP classes and replace full-time teachers with part-timers.

Based on the press reports, even the Republican town council members seem frustrated with the obstinate electorate, wondering how it will be possible to satisfy anti-tax voters without resorting to even more draconian cuts than the potentially crippling reductions they've already approved... but those Republicans should look in the mirror. Tip O'Neill famously declared that "all politics is local," but sometimes all local politics is national, too: Since the days of Reagan, Republican leaders and their allies in the punditocracy have been preaching the gospel of endless tax cuts and total disrespect for the value of government. Now local Republican officials are reaping what their national leaders have sown: Their constituents will not vote for even the most modest additional taxation, no matter how badly it's needed or how essential the services it would fund.

My personal sin is that I've stood by and watched it happen. When my family moved to Connecticut almost 6 years ago, I was very pleased to note that my new neighbors seemed so much more willing to invest in schools and local services than my former neighbors in Florida had been. Vernon was a great place to live: Affordable home ownership, very good public schools, timely and efficient town services (I didn't know how important snow plowing and leaf removal could be before I moved here!), a great parks and recreation system... basically lots to be proud of. Gradually, though, it started to get harder to pass a budget... not only for Vernon, but for other similar towns in the Hartford area (and probably throughout Connecticut, for all I know). Each year the upcoming budget referendum was greated by a growing crop of anti-budget yard signs, expressing not reasoned criticism of the budget proposal itself, but only an uncritical no-new-taxes message: What's in Your Wallet? Vote No!; Are You Broke? Vote No!; and on and on. Each year I fumed at the reactionary selfishness of this position, at the foolishness of people who refused to see the value we were getting for our money. I fumed... but I did nothing. After each of the last two annual budget fights, I swore to myself that next year I'd get involved... and then each year budget season came before I realized and I ended up just fuming again.

No more! Tomorrow my wife and teenage daughter and I will attend the scheduled meeting to help draft this year's third attempt at a budget. We'll be there with posters and passion, and I, at least, will be there ready to speak out in advocacy for responsible budgets and the value of community. And next year I'll be at the first budget meeting, and I'll put out my own signs and organize my own advocacy group. I might not end up changing much, but I damn sure won't be sitting on the sidelines griping about other people.

It's presumptuous of me to say so, because I've neglected my duties in this area for so long, but I urge all of you to do the same. Let your town council, your school board, your state representatives, your congressmen and senators know that you want good government, that you value the shared community work that functional government represents, and that you're willing to pay your fair share to achieve those goals. And even more important than telling your elected representatives, tell your neighbors. It's not enough, I now realize, just to vote; you must speak out, and influence the voters around you!

Unit of the Day: Geeks among you probably already know that tera- is a metric prefix meaning 1012, or one trillion, as in teraflops (trillion floating point operations per second) or terabytes, but you may not know that it was derived from the Greek word for monster, teras. (Our words terrible and terrific have this same root.) The three prefixes mega-, giga-, and tera- thus mean something like huge, gigantic, and monstrous. (Adapted, as always, from How Many?)

1 comment:

ATalbot said...

I think the meeting went OK. Mara was quoted twice in the Courant!