. . . To Pay Paul
MARCH 01, 1981 by LELAND BROWNE JR.
concerned citizen and businessman here takes a stand against a proposal, by friends and neighbors, of government intervention to benefit special interests at the expense of others. The identification of the community in this case is withheld. But the situation is well-nigh universal; it could happen in your town.
Mr. Mayor, Members of the Council Representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, Interested Citizens: There are a number of things I’d rather be doing than speaking here in opposition to this proposal. As I understand it, the proposal is that we will levy a 3½ per cent tax on the overnight guests in our motels in order to fund the city’s industrial development program.
I am acutely aware of and in fact have no small vested interest in the economic benefits and advantages that may accrue to our community through an aggressive industrial growth program. I am acutely aware and deeply appreciative of the dedication and efforts of the Chamber representatives in that regard. I am acutely aware that the primary spokesmen for this program tonight and in your earlier meetings are close personal friends of mine who have spent countless hours in addressing this problem and for whom I have boundless respect and admiration.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that this proposal is wrong; it troubles me deeply—perhaps, admittedly, out of all proportion to practical reality, but nonetheless I feel compelled to speak to it. As a recent local news editorial pointed out, the primary merit of this proposal is that it creates an economic enhancing activity at little or no cost to the residents of our city. Put another way, that is to say that we are proposing to use the power of the local government to create an economic benefit for us and make somebody else pay for it.
The Abuse of Power
In my judgment, this is a classic case in microcosm of the abuse of government power. Set aside for a moment, if you will, considerations of size and scale which are admittedly small, and consider the nature of the proposal in and of itself. And if you will look at it in that light, I think you will agree that it represents one of the most flagrant examples of the abuse of government power that we will find today in any local, state or federal program or in any government spending proposal.
I would ask you four questions: (1) Do you condone the use of the power of government to accomplish in the name of expediency a purpose which has historically, traditionally and demonstrably been accomplished, and can be accomplished, by and within the private sector? (2) Do you condone the use of the power of government to levy a tax on one group for the primary benefit of another group? (3) Do you condone the use of the power of government to levy a tax on citizens who are not represented by the government; who are, in fact, disenfranchised voters under this government and are not, therefore, represented by it? (4) Do you condone the use of the power of government to assign as a legal obligation to one group an obligation which in fact is not theirs under any natural process of moral or philosophical reasoning?
If I asked any of you any of those questions on the street, you would say “no”—you do not condone such use of government power. But I say to you, to vote in favor of this proposal is to vote “yes”—you do condone the use of government power in all four of those questions.
The question before us is not really whether this proposal is right or wrong morally or philosophically. An overnight guest has no more obligation to fund our industrial development than any of us has an obligation to fund the industrial development of Springfield or St. Louis or New Orleans. On philosophical and moral grounds, the proposal is wrong, and we all know it.
The question is not whether the proposal is right or wrong. The question is, knowing that it’s wrong, what are we going to do about it? Should we turn it down and in so doing perhaps place our community at a competitive disadvantage with other communities who have adopted similar legislation as a political expediency and a practical necessity?
Let me turn the question around. Should we adopt a proposal we know to be wrong on the altar of and in the name of political expediency and practical necessity? I say to you, if the answer to that question is “yes”, then we must face a second question. And that question is, when and where do we fight against the further encroachment of government power in any form on our lives and in our economy? Do we do so only on the broad and essentially national issues where the abuses of the government are admittedly the greatest but paradoxically our voice and our influence is the least?
Almost to a man, each of us has spoken out sincerely on occasion and deplored the accelerating growth of government and the interference with a free economy. And oftentimes we do so in a sense of frustration and almost a sense of futility. Can we afford to speak out on these issues only when the consequences of speaking out are relatively remote and painless? Can we in conscience vigorously support and defend the concepts of a limited government and make an exception and say that when the government proposal provides for us a benefit and someone else a bill, then we are for the growth of government? Can we say “no” to 90 per cent of governmental proposals and say “yeah, come on” in those instances where governmental expan sion provides for us a benefit and for someone else a bill? Can we, in short, preach without practicing?
If we allow ourselves to be seduced into joining this parade, then who stops it? Where? When? And on what basis? Are we ready to say that it can’t be stopped, that the cause is lost? Why, then, do we bother to study our history? Why, especially, do we espouse—albeit wistfully, perhaps—concepts of individual liberty, freedom and a competitive economy? We are facing in this proposal a perfect example in micro-costa of the way government has eroded its way into the free market and the free economy with a siren song of benefits for one to be paid for by someone else.
An Impressive Record
Is there an alternative? Perhaps. I have been a resident here for 18 years. I have been continually ira-pressed and increasingly proud of the Protestant ethic—and I use that term in the broadest possible context—that pervades our society in this community and in this part of the state. People in this community say, in effect, that we believe completely in the concepts of individual liberty and freedom and specifically in the right of the individual to invest and to succeed or fail on his own merits. The people of this area do, in fact, in my judgment represent a bastion of that philosophy unsurpassed by any other region in this country.
If this proposal passes, we will then be able to go to outside industry and say,”Here—here is our basket of goodies. We think you will find it competitive.” We will not be able to offer a competitive edge. The most we can hope for under this proposal is the creation of a competitive parity. But in so doing, we will have negated and aborted the greatest strength and the most unique strength we have.
Suppose that instead of saying to outside industry, “Here is our basket of goodies,” we say to industry that these people and this community specifically reject the concept of creating for one group special favors and special benefits by taxing another group. We say to you, we believe in free enterprise, we will support you and help you in any way we can, and we urge you to come and locate in our community. And we think you will find our people among the finest in this country. But our only promise to you is that we will do our best to protect you against the type of government encroachment that would have been necessary to create for you special benefit or special favor and would have, in fact, made a victim of you in some future instance where it became necessary to create under the same rules a special benefit and a special favor for some other future industry.
In short, we offer you only a microcosm of free enterprise at its best. That perhaps is a naive approach. And I’m sure that many industrial prospects would laugh you out of the room. But not all will. And those that don’t are the ones who are following the concepts that built this country.
In conclusion, I can only say to you again that we must not allow ourselves to be seduced in the name of expediency by proposals that we know to be wrong. The greatest obligation we have is to our children. And the greatest gift we can give them is a moral code which has as one of its basic tenets a recognition of the rights of private property and a dedication to the safety of that property from the encroachment and confiscation of government in order to provide a benefit for some other party.
To paraphrase, if I may, our forefathers at Lexington and Concord: If a stand must be made, let it be made here, let it be made now.
Thank you very much.
Unfortunately, the tax proposal here protested was finally adopted. But in the case of numerous similar proposals the outcome is not yet know; that could depend on you.