Four Questions as Session Begins
February 6, 2018 - 11:30am CST
Actions speak louder than words, but what they tell us is not always obvious. What do our elected officials believe? What are they really trying to do? Here are four questions to ask as we watch the legislative process unfold.
- Revenue first or reform first? Supporters of bigger government will always seek to increase revenues (taxes and fees). Those who really believe in limiting the size and scope of government will prioritize spending and make government more efficient. In other words, they will look for reforms first and increase revenue only as a last resort.
- Thoughtful or reactionary? Good public policy is challenging—it takes time and thought. Much easier is just reacting to the latest news story or even rumor. Bad policy builds up and makes governing more difficult; lazy legislating is not a victimless crime. Tax policy is a good example, where serious legislators ask questions like: How much revenue will this really bring in? Will it be stable and predictable? What are the tradeoffs? (That last question should be asked of any proposal.)
- Who does the money belong to? This one is simple and foundational. Some people believe that things belong to the person who created or earned them. Others believe that everything really belongs to government, which is benevolent when it allows you to keep some of your earnings or use your property. Pay attention to what politicians say in tax debates to find out what they really believe. (And, see what President Reagan said about this below.)
- Spaghetti on the wall or leadership? It is a counterfeit kind of leadership that distances itself from any one path forward and instead passively waits for consensus. To be a leader, one must have a belief about what is the best way to go and then put that idea forward. Of course, that’s risky, and it takes work. But anything less is simply not leadership.
For more about these questions and the start of the legislative session, listen to Monday’s show or watch our coverage of the State of the State address.
President Ronald Reagan, in remarks to students at a People to People International Youth Exchange Program, said:
But if you look at history, I think you'll find that the first signs of decline in great nations were economic ones, decline brought on by governments that spend too much of their citizens' hard-earned money and then burden them with excessive taxation and inflation in order to foot the bill. All around the world today, there's an increasing appreciation of this lesson, an increasing realization that growth and opportunity means getting big government out of the way and letting free peoples reach as far and as high as their talents and ambitions will take them. Now there's more and more understanding that just as we have the right to speak and publish and assemble and vote, we also have rights to enjoy the fruits of our labor and not be overtaxed and overburdened by government.
I once had an adventure with a State senator in California when I was Governor who didn't understand that. We turned up with a surplus one year of $850 million. And the legislature had all kinds of ideas of what to do with it, and I had an idea, too, as Governor. I went before the people publicly and said, we're going to give it back to you. One day this senator stormed into my office. He said, "I think giving this money back to the people is an unnecessary expenditure of public funds." [Laughter] Where did he think it came from in the first place? But there are some that begin to think that it's government's money and they just let us keep a little of it. Well, in many ways, this is a reflection of what's been happening here in our own country during the past 6% years. All the way along, the choice has been the same: more taxes, more spending, more regulation, more deficits or the other choice, less of all four and a lot more growth, opportunity, and a bright economic future for my generation and yours.