Maryland's budget deficit and the failure of 'we the people'

Carl LaVerghetta

October 24, 1991|By Carl LaVerghetta

I HAVE been observing with considerable interest the expressions of anger and frustration over the fiscal crisis in Maryland. No one enjoys seeing people lose their jobs, and no one wants to deny those who are less fortunate the care they deserve. However, there is another vital and potentially dangerous issue surrounding the budget fiasco that needs to be addressed.

The most basic tenet of representative government is that those public servants chosen to do our will do precisely that. The problem is that "we the people" do very little to communicate exactly what our will is. The level of activism by citizens in a society is directly related to the effectiveness of democracy in that society.

The failure to consistently pressure our public servants has created the problem that Marylanders, and for that matter, citizens in all 50 states, are now facing. We have allowed government to become pervasive and virtually uncontrollable. A prolonged cycle of taxing and spending initiatives has created layer upon layer of bureaucracy that demands more and more of our wealth for its support.

Politicians have never been very adept at convincing us that escalating tax burdens are the cost of social progress. What has worked in their favor is our lack of self-responsibility. We rarely scrutinize the way government spends our money. We have allowed politicians to become the overseers of our economic liberty by providing them with an open and undefended door to our wealth and property.

The prominent theme in any form of democratic endeavor is the supremacy of the individual over the state. The economic liberty and individual rights of citizens are intrinsic blessings of democracy and capitalism. Free men and women reluctantly render taxing authority to government on the proposition that taxation is a necessary evil.

The nature of today's modern state is that it feeds on the resources of its citizenry. Tax cuts or tax rebates are simply unheard of. The entrenched psychology of government is to spend and grow. When was the last time politicians in Annapolis deliberately attempted to downsize government? When was the last time we heard politicians tell us they understand the tax burdens we endure and that they will work to lessen the burdens?

It is evident that "we the people" have lost sight of our philosophical roots. John Locke, whose ideals are incorporated into the Declaration of Independence, saw the right to acquire and keep money and property as one of the most fundamental and inviolable rights of humankind. Government intrusion in these areas should always be minimal.

The renowned chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, recognized the power to tax as potentially destructive. Justice Potter Stewart saw no distinction between personal rights and property rights. We fought a revolution for what are essentially our economic and political freedoms. Taxation without scrupulous control by the people threatens that freedom.

Some 30 states have raised taxes recently in an attempt to heal their wounded budgets. Increases in taxes are particularly damaging to people during a recession. We can predict with some certitude that the present budget crisis will produce yet another assault on our wealth.

The almost half-billion-dollar deficit we face is a direct result of the shortsightedness and fiscal irresponsibility of our public servants and a lack of vigilance on our part. Our choice is a hard but relatively simple one. We can continue to support and feed the behemoth we have created. We can watch our tax bills spiral ever higher, or we can lower our expectations of what we want from government, communicate our wants and desires to our public servants and hold them to strict standards of accountability.

Limited government has always been a guiding principle in our political culture. We have always believed that the freedom of the individual is more important than the power of the state. Limited government means fewer services and programs, but not necessarily a diminished quality of life. If we decide to limit the funding we provide to government, we are burdened with a far greater responsibility to determine what programs and services we think are necessary and to forcefully communicate our views to our representatives in Annapolis.

John Stuart Mill saw the individual as a "vital power." He saw the state as a machine which denies spontaneity. "We the people" are an essential part of government. The more involved we are in its tasks, the less machine-like it becomes. The choice is ours; it always has been!

Carl LaVerghetta writes from Columbia.

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