Sup. John Cook

Do What Families and Businesses Do

Stop me if you heard this one before.

“…[T]he state has to live within its means, just as families have to live within theirs.”

Oh, you have heard it? How ‘bout this?

“Government must do what most families and businesses in Fairfax County have done – set priorities and tighten its belt.”

Of course, these are the well-worn platitudes of those who see taxes as weapons of mass destruction. The first is by a state delegate; the second is from an email I received from my Fairfax county supervisor.

Even on the face of it, these statements are nonsense. What do businesses do in tight times? Often, they raise prices. And families? I know few who are so defeatist that they would simply hunker down when money gets tight. Rather, they work harder to earn a promotion, or find a better paying job, or a second job. In other words, they look to increase income, not just cut expenses. They make the sacrifice to work harder today for a better tomorrow, most likely for their children’s sake.

But what is more pernicious about these statements is that they are often accompanied by the implied accusation that government is bad. At best, it presents a false dichotomy: families versus the government.

But families and businesses are part of the government. Every person or company that pays taxes or votes (and perhaps the Supreme Court will soon give that right to companies, too) is part of the government. Government is passed down from generation to generation with the implied support of a majority of its citizens.

And while such statements are often accompanied by invoking the “founding fathers,” those invocations , too, are false. Our founding fathers were not men of letters. They weren’t great artists, musicians or philosophers. Their contribution was our government. They believed in government. And because the Articles of Confederation proved to be weak, they came together to write the Constitution for a stronger government.

So efforts to malign government as the problem subvert the very idea of our country.

Here’s another look at families, or at least mine. Our kids are long gone from Fairfax schools. But they helped make them who they are today. And what a blessing freshmen sports, especially indoor track, were in providing a safe outlet for our son’s energy in that crucial first year of high school. As many a bored track parent would say at meets, “Better than on the streets.” So were libraries where our youngest daughter checked out books by the dozen. So were public parks where our oldest daughter tread their fields. Schools, libraries, parks, all will likely see major funding cuts when Fairfax approves this year’s budget.

Moreover, few expect a quick turnaround in the economy. If we don’t find the funds to maintain these services, they will decline. If not permanently, at least for a long time.

So our family will look at what we have and make tough decisions. But the easiest decision would be to pay more in taxes, i.e., raise income, to preserve our quality of life here. That’s what businesses do to survive and families do to thrive. Given the deep cuts in the state budget, the county government is the last line of defense for our communities. And many us still believe in our founding fathers’ legacy—government.