Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ballot initiatives and non-democratic Democrats

Ballot initiatives, like government itself, are dangerous necessities and, consequently, should be utilized sparingly.

An initiative is a bypass of the traditional lawmaking responsibility of the legislature. By a direct vote, rather than the more cumbersome process of having our representatives handle it, a law becomes a reality.

Direct democracy, while hailed by some wistful souls as the ideal, is in fact a dangerous way of passing laws. Why? Simple: Most people — most voters that is — do not have the interest and desire to learn more than a token amount about the facts behind the proposed law. Other than an often grossly inadequate paragraph or two on a sample ballot, the very people who are being asked to create some new rule or regulation or criminalize a currently legal practice do so in a state of near complete ignorance.

Taxes are always a major concern, and government — all governments and any government — never have enough revenue. New ideas for more revenue are always being considered, and who pays what and how much are never-ending battles. Traditionally, property and sales taxes have been huge tax pools tapped by government. In Nevada a few decades ago, following California’s Proposition 13, a shift from property to sales taxes occurred. Sales taxes, believe it or not, were nonexistent in Nevada for almost a century. After the shift, they swiftly climbed, today around 7-3⁄4 percent, while property taxes declined. Government did not cut spending, only shifted the burden from property owners to consumers.

In spite of the boost from sales taxes, property taxes also began to creep back up and today are not terribly below where they were before the “tax shift.” These increases were not supposed to happen — the “need” for them had been removed by the expanded sales revenue — but the failure to put a permanent cap of sorts on property taxes, coupled with the insatiable “needs” of government, was an easy-to-predict equation.

Since the increases originated with our elected officials, it is difficult to turn to them for a redress of our grievances. Hence the need for going directly to the people.

Sharron Angle and Don Gustavson, both former legislators familiar with the behavior of our lawmakers, are pushing an initiative to put in our state constitution a permanent cap and a reasonable formula for property tax revisions, similar to Prop. 13, thus removing the temptation of always trying to solve the semi-annual circus of our state’s “budget crisis” with property tax increases.

Sales taxes are less stable than property taxes, thus state coffers can see volatile ups and downs – a frustration for those planning budgets. Property taxes, on the other hand, tend to be very consistent and are therefore highly favored by those who see taxes not as a burden but as an income source. Public sector folks lust for the simplicity and consistency of property taxes and lament the “unprogressive” nature of sales-based revenue.

This, of course, is nonsense; people with property also tend to pay a disproportionate share of sales taxes, as they have higher incomes and spend it freely on all sorts of things that are subjected to sales taxes.

A cap on property taxes is reasonable and at one time a practice approved by the people through a ballot initiative. In Nevada, these must go through the process of being on the ballot two times and the second attempt was removed when the Nevada Legislature, fearing the permanency of having the caps locked in place in the constitution, promised the needed reform through the “tax shift.” Today, we are again facing not only higher sales taxes but now higher property taxes as well with no likely end in sight especially with the current economic decline sending governments scrambling for new revenue.

Thus, a permanent cap is a prudent step, placing a check on the never-ending upward spiral of government spending. We should not place too much confidence in our legislators; they are like reformed alcoholics who have been handed a key to the liquor cabinet and asked to exercise self-control. Temptation can weaken resolve, and getting a second lock and a separate key will help keep everyone honest. As Thomas Jefferson wisely counseled, “Bind men down from mischief with the chains of the constitution.”

Democratic Democrats?

I cannot help but marvel at the debate over the methodology of how the Democrats, the great champions of “one man, one vote” and other equality nonsense, fail to practice what they allegedly preach.

The concept of so-called “super delegates” shows a huge gap between practice and preaching. The idea that the rich and powerful in the party should have a disproportionate share of the votes in the upcoming convention show a remarkable distrust of the supposedly sainted “common man” they pretend to genuflect before. George Orwell understood his fellow socialists well; indeed, 21st century “democrats” could not demonstrate their base hypocrisy more blatantly.

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than other.