My circle of friends, including parents of kids in public school, have been dancing around the subject. God knows the damn thing is the size of an elephant. It affects our plans for the next few years, especially for those of us who’ve winced through school financial disasters and on-again, off-again program cuts which may affect our kids’ future. We talk around the subject. We allude obliquely to it. We mutter and grouse and complain about it. What we never do, however, is come right out and say what action we’re explicitly going to take.
“It,” of course, is Ballot Measure 30, the fate of which will be decided today. As one parent put it on Super Bowl Sunday, “Last year we in Multnomah County decided to take care of ourselves. Now we need to decide whether we’re going to take care of our neighbors-the rest of the state.” Like me, she’s skilled at dealing with financial cuts, which impact our kids. I had to further consider how she phrased her statement-shaped by up-close and personal experience working in health care and church charity feeding the poor. I had to agree, finally, that she’d not only summed up the major issue of Measure 30, but also a lot of what’s driving Oregon’s persistent obsession with paying fewer taxes.
One telling part of this debate over Measure 30 was when Vic Atiyeh, the Republican governor of Oregon during the early 80s, came forward to argue in favor by pointing out that a similar short-term tax surcharge had been passed during his tenure, when Oregon was in a similar fix. At that time, however, no one pushed for the tax surcharge to be referred, even though this was in an era when the timber industry was in the toilet and a healthy chunk of the populace was out of work. Folks took a deep breath and ponied up their change to pay the extra tax. What’s different now?
Maybe the driving factor is that back then, the Greed Is Good attitude had not quite hit here. People got out and did volunteer work, took care of their neighbors, and thought about the impact of their choices. Government was not an evil word synonymous with mismanagement, but was something respectable which provided a safety net. The attitude of “those who die with the most toys wins” hadn’t hit. A majority of voters understood that you looked out for other people, especially if you had more resources than those less well off.
Damn. Do I ever sound like the classic old phart here or what? Things weren’t that rosy back in the day, although there seems to have been a greater support for an attitude of personal responsibility toward not just one’s own folk but toward society as a whole.
What’s wrong, however, seems to be all of a piece, however. Our population, both here in Oregon and in the nation as a whole, has become more divided and divisive. Rather than being concerned about what the good is for all, we are concerned with getting our own-and our leadership encourages this attitude. And we’re reaping the result, in a safety net, which fails more and more people among us, with a growing division between those who have resources and those who don’t.
I don’t know what the result of the Measure 30 vote will be, and it’s too late to affect the vote of most of you reading this column now. On the other hand, if you haven’t gotten your behinds out to vote yet, and you’ve got a ballot, then do so. If you haven’t registered to vote, then now would be a dang good time to get off your tuchus and do so for the May primary.
Above all else, though, one principle to keep in mind is just simply this:
What are you gonna do about your neighbor in need?
Think about it.