Thursday, March 08, 2007

You are not responsible for my parents

The title I chose for my column last week was "County Taxpayers are not responsible for your parents". I argued for ending the Senior Day Care program.

Anyway, my column was published under the heading "You are responsible for your own parents." In fact, I did not say anything about someone being responsible for their parents. I wasn't trying to tell people to take care of their own parents. I was simply saying that government, as a representative of the taxpayers, is not responsible for taking care of people's parents for them.

The column hasn't made it to the web site yet, so I don't have a link, but since it's my column I don't really need one:

Critically Thinking
By Charles Reichley
March 1, 2007

County taxpayers are not responsible for your parents

After years of double-digit growth, Prince William County is finally taking steps to curtail its runaway spending. However, even these first small attempts are meeting heated opposition, primarily from those who benefit from the County’s largesse.

First up is the Manassas Senior Day Program. This hardly counts as a difficult budget choice. As Sunday’s Washington Post notes, “(County Executive) Gerhart said he would have recommended its closure even if budget cuts were not necessary.” The program is underutilized. According to the Potomac News, there are only four regular attendees, and twenty seven occasional users.

Also, private Senior Day Care is available. Gerhart cites this alternative saying “As a government, we don't exist to out-compete with the private sector”. The director of the Prince William Agency on Aging said the private program is bigger and offers more services for about the same price.

But even if there were no private alternative, the government has no business offering subsidized day care for adults, children, or pets. Government does not exist to meet the needs of individual citizens, but rather to ensure the common good for all citizens.

I found an article claiming to be the words of the legendary Davy Crockett. Congress was voting to give money to a Navy Officer’s widow, and Representative Crockett took the floor in opposition. His argument? “Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity”.

Explaining his opposition, Crockett recounts a vote he cast to provide aid to families in D.C. who had lost their homes to a fire. Later, while running for re-election, a constituent took him to task for that vote. Crockett was surprised the man would complain about giving “the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve suffering women and children”.

The man’s response should be required reading for every politician. I can only summarize it here – read it all at The “power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure” is dangerous, and easily abused. Taxes are paid by people who might be needier than those to whom those taxes are given. If a politician can give away one dollar of the taxpayer’s money to one individual, the politician can collect any amount of tax and “give to any thing and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper.”

This opens the door “for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other”. To drive home the point, the man charges: “If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief.”

Government has no right to give away tax money, and no authority to provide individual services such as day care for people’s parents. But some argue this is exactly what the government must do. One supporter said the board had responsibility for the elderly. “Our impaired elderly have no voice except that of their caregivers and you, their government officials”. This is wrong – government officials give voice to all the people, not just a few. And taxpayers are not responsible for an individual’s parents, impaired or otherwise.

The comments of some supervisors show the corrupting influence of the power to give away other people’s money. Dumfries Supervisor Maureen Caddigan responded to the lack of demand for the program by urging supporters to drum up more clients for the program. Woodbridge Supervisor Hilda Barg complained that since the County runs a program on the other end of town, it wasn’t fair to close down the Manassas program. “We should treat all of our citizens equally", she said, arguing to continue the wasteful spending. But spending the taxpayer’s money to benefit a few people isn’t “treating all of our citizens equally”. There are thousands of taxpayers that have needs but aren’t expecting other taxpayers to pay for them.

I realize that losing this program will be a hardship to those who use it. But that is no reason to continue a wasteful, underused program that never should have existed in the first place.

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