What if the kid at your front door offered to rake your leaves into piles, but not to bag them? Would you hire him?
Or a contractor who said he’d rip out the old carpet, but not install the new one? Would you hire him?
Of course you wouldn’t.
But, when it comes to government, common sense has fled the scene.
The pledge never to raise any tax, no matter the situation, makes precisely as much sense as the leaf raker who won’t bag.
Yet that vow has become nearly mandatory for Republican candidates, and seductive to Democratic ones.
Behold this wacky state budgeting season. In Pennsylvania, rookie governor Tom Corbett made the pledge. So now he pigheadedly spurns a chance to raise needed revenue from the boom in natural gas drilling. Even fellow Republicans slap their foreheads.
Look, any budget – government, corporate or household – has two elements, expenses and revenues. If you’ve got a budget hole, you try to cut one and raise the other. You cancel the HBO, and you hold a yard sale. You try the “staycation,” and take a second job.
In business, an enterprise can raise its prices, within what the market will bear. You might have seen this happen, oh, I don’t know, a million times in your life.
Yet, somehow, government has become the only enterprise where prices are expected only to go down, never up.
Do not mistake this as a brief in favor of waste, corruption or exasperating unions. Governments can and should cut their cost of doing business. But any responsible budget tries a broad mixture of steps.
In Pennsylvania, Corbett proposes cutting a billion a year from public schools, while doing little to fix bridges that last week were rated the nation’s most decrepit. He could raise, ultimately, $400 million a year by imposing a modest tax, equivalent to other states’, on the lucrative drilling. Most Pennsylvanians support this idea, while the drillers pinch themselves at the unexpected gift this rookie is sending them.
But Corbett sends out spokesmen saying things like “$400 million won’t plug our budget hole.”
Of course, it won’t, silly. Neither will any of your budget cuts, taken in isolation. You don’t balance a budget in one magical stroke. It takes dozens of sensible steps.
That is how, in the real world, adults do things. Only in the upside-down world of American government could refusing to bag the leaves or install the carpet get mistaken for the height of virtue.