Thursday, June 5, 2008

115. Referendum vote not always right

Referendum is becoming a popular idea in Lorain County when it comes to tax increases. We saw it in the last general election regarding the County sales tax, and now it is being considered in regards to the Lorain City government proposal to tax license plates an additional $15 for road repairs.

Referendums are indeed democratic, as each voter has a say in the passage of legislation. Ironically, according to Ohio History Central, it arose to pass tax issues when legislatures were afraid to.

"One reform instituted by Progressives in many states was the referendum. Progressives believed that politicians were often afraid to introduce some types of legislation because it could be unpopular and prevent their reelection. Referendum would allow politicians to put legislation on the ballot so that the voters, rather than the politicians, were responsible for its passage. Tax issues were one type of legislation that might go through the referendum process. If a tax issue passed, the voters themselves, rather than the politicians, were responsible for their increased taxes. Progressives argued that the referendum made the American political system more democratic."

Today, it is just the opposite. Referendums are being used to repeal tax increases.

We ought to be careful in our haste to get these issues on the ballot, for several reasons. Raising taxes is never easy to do; however, there becomes a point when the social or government services cannot be provided based on the current revenue. Most tax payers do not realize this; all they understand that they do not want to pay more taxes. Furthermore, it is unlikely that most citizens have ever really looked at a county or city budget to the degree that they can make an informed decision as to whether a tax increase is warranted. That is why we elect representatives, people whom we trust to make informed decisions when considering all the demands of providing a government to its citizens. If we do not trust them to make decisions concerning the amount of taxes we paid, then we ought to have elected someone else. That is why it is so important people learn about their candidates, the issues they support- and get out to vote.

That being said, there is a time and place for the use of referendum. It does provide voters a say in important and perhaps controversial issues. It also affords voters the opportunity to overturn poor legislation. It should always be the right of citizens to consider a referendum.

However, there is also the misuse of referendum, such as using it to build a political platform, or to oppress a minority. Unfortunately, any majority issue can be placed on the ballot to take away the rights of others. Recently, referendums were used to make gay marriage illegal and to make smoking illegal in public places. As most know, the gay marriage referendum was especially misguided since it was already illegal in the state of Ohio and it was used primarily to re-elect President Bush. Referendum should be done as an action of the citizens, not to launch, enhance, or preserve political careers.

Again, nobody likes to pay taxes. However, safe neighborhoods, high-quality schools and social services come at a price- and if we are not willing to invest in ourselves, how we will ever lure businesses and others to our area. In other words, who wants to start a business or move to an area that is unsafe, has poor roads, offers underfunded schools or does not have the essential social services? We cannot have it both ways.

What voters decide is up to them, and in times of increasing economic difficulties, I can understand why tax increases are voted down. However, all perspectives and interests should be considered when you see someone parading around a referendum. And, most importantly, voters should make an effort to understand and learn about the issues at hand. There is a reason that the tax increase was considered in the first place; our job is to legitimately decide whether or not it was warranted. But keep in mind that it is unlikely that any government official would risk his or her political career if there were other, easier, solutions.

If we are going to put some issues to vote, here is a few I would like to see (just for fun). How about a referendum limiting the amount of profits an oil company can make? What about a referendum that assures affordable healthcare to all citizens? Let us vote on an extended prison terms for animal abusers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should suggest a referendum that ensures that all votes are actually counted!