What others are saying

February 02, 2007

New Orleanians learned the hard way to distrust the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after the shoddy levees built by the agency failed during Hurricane Katrina.

Communities across the nation are now getting firsthand experience in another reason why local residents remain suspicious of the corps: the agency's long-standing reluctance to keep the public adequately informed.

Under a nationwide levee review mandated by Congress after Katrina, the corps has identified 146 levees in 30 states and territories that the agency says have an unacceptable risk of failing in a major flood, USA Today reported. The corps disclosed the number of troubled levees in every state, including six in Louisiana. But it is refusing to reveal the locations, saying it wants to first complete inspections on all of the suspect levees.

That's bad policy. If the corps won't reverse it, Congress should order the agency to do so.

- The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

As Scarlett O'Hara, belle and libertarian capitalist, put it, "Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never a convenient time for any of them."

Hard to argue: Life, wealth and a 17-inch waist are preferable by far. But a girl has to admit there are times when taxes, while not convenient, are necessary. A positive social good, even. In 1987, Florida Gov. Bob Martinez embraced a sales tax on services: real estate agents, accountants' fees, advertising, dry cleaning, etc. The Legislature passed it, and for one brief shining moment, Florida, burdened with an Old South hangover of a revenue structure, was fixing to lead the way for the New South.

Then the real estate agents and accountants and dry cleaners and advertisers - especially advertisers - began to buy airtime, shrieking like cornered possums. Voters reared up: They're going to tax an oil change for the Buick and Mama's Sunday dress dry cleaning? Mr. Martinez's poll numbers crashed; he recanted. So did the Legislature. The services tax was repealed after just six months.

Pity. With some fine-tuning so as not to hit small businesses or lower-income people too hard, the services sales tax might have given Florida a higher-education system on par with Michigan or New York. We could have built schools instead of prisons and boasted a per-pupil spending rate in the nation's top 10 - instead of the bottom 10. Maybe we would have been able to treat the mentally ill instead of chucking them in jail. Maybe we would have saved Lake Okeechobee or bought up more precious wild land before it got condo-fied. Florida wouldn't have been paradise, but it could have been far better.

- Diane Roberts, in the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times

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