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Our civic duty requires informed decisions


Fri, Aug 22nd, 2008
Posted in Commentary

In the August 11, 2008, edition of this newspaper there were three commentary pieces that had me thinking for quite some time after I had read them.

In the first, former Congressman Lee Hamilton asks us to pay attention to what politicians are presenting. He also asks us to learn more about our own system of government in order to appreciate the fact that governmental problem solving often requires compromise. He goes on to say that producing agreement on policy is indeed hard work and that just because Congress or a state legislature does not produce exactly what you or I may want in policy does not mean our system is broken.

My take on his commentary is that we have a responsibility to understand our system and to ask for information when ideas are presented to us for consideration.

Taking this advice to heart I then read the piece by our own First District Congressman, Tim Walz. Congressman Walz briefly describes for us legislation he said he has introduced to lower the taxes on middle class folks. To quote the Congressman, "Not only is my bill completely paid for it actually helps to reduce our national debt."

How will this miracle of legislation work? Mentioned are the federal government subsidies oil companies are to receive over the next 10 years. Also mentioned are foreign companies doing business in this country that have established tax havens in other countries to avoid paying "their fair share of taxes." However, we are not told if the subsidies to the oil companies are to be eliminated in the Congressman's proposed legislation. Nor are we told that the legislation will require the foreign companies to pay taxes. The article goes on to state that the Congressman's proposed legislation will repeal government waste and close corporate loopholes and use the saved money to provide the aforementioned middle class tax breaks.

All well and good. But, what actual government waste and which loopholes are we talking about? How does this relate to lowering our national debt? I am not against taxing companies, such as big oil, that have made unheard of profits over the past several months. And, I am not against having companies, foreign or domestic, pay their "fair share". Without specifics, we are being promised the bun, but the meat isn't there. As of August 17th, the specifics were not available on the Congressman's website. In fact, when I used the websites' search function and typed in "Middle Class Tax Fairness Act", no matches could be found. Without specifics we are left with more of the same, happy words without substance.

This piece, like many written in an election year is aimed at the things most of the electorate want, lower taxes and better services. As the Congressman said himself, "the easiest thing for any politician to do is promise a tax cut." I want specifics, and I want to know how things will work.

The third piece in the Journal, on the lack of fairness and equitability of the federally mandated No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law was by John Fitzgerald. Mr. Fitzgerald is identified as a Fellow at Minnesota 2020, a non-profit public policy research group. I do not doubt Mr. Fitzgerald's credentials in the field of education or his sincerity in making education better for the children of Minnesota and the country. Indeed, I have it on good authority from a close friend who has spent their entire career in Minnesota education and education policy that Mr. Fitzgerald knows what he is talking about.

I found Mr. Fitzgerald's article informative and we don't have to reiterate here all that is wrong with NCLB. What bothered me was that it seemed that Mr. Fitzgerald's bottom line is, if there were only more money for education things for our children would be better. He states that "Education leaders know that for NCLB to work, money has to flow into the program." He also agreed that we need a better system of accountability and resources that consistently meet the needs of the schools and the students. But what exactly does that mean? Accountability of whom, by whom, for whom? What are the resources needed? Examples were not given.

I am sure we all support education for our children. I also believe that we would be willing to pay what it really takes to ensure the best public education possible. But, the discussion of public education cannot and should not begin with a discussion of money. It should begin with discussions on the components necessary to deliver the best education possible for all out students. Is it more money for teacher salaries, for new or better school buildings, better training for teachers and administrators, new or better equipment such as computers, or funding for special needs students? The list could go on. A discussion of better education should focus on specifics. Then the talk of money can take place.

As Mr. Hamilton has asked us to consider, let us be serious about our civic duty. Let us ask for and if necessary demand the information necessary to make informed decisions.

Alan Lipowitz lives in Peterson.

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