Arguments against Measure X fall into two categories. The first category consists of those who are against taxes and against government, period. Call them the Grover Norquist crowd.
Norquist’s wish to reduce government, “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” has come true in many places, especially California cities hard hit by the Great Recession. As government continues to shrink, however, many Norquist supporters have had to rethink their pledge to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
In fact, some local conservatives, including State Assembly member Kristin Olsen, have renounced the Norquist pledge altogether. That’s most likely because it’s become more and more evident that even the best-intentioned actions can go too far.
And lest anyone forget their lessons in U.S. history, one of the primary reasons for forming government in the first place was to protect private property. In our cities, that job is given to police officers. And when there’s not enough money to pay for police officers, it’s a sign that government is near collapse, but not the kind of collapse even Grover Norquist would wish for.
In Modesto, a city beset by poverty, high crime rates, and ongoing revenue shortfalls, our police force is now operating at a per capita number far below the national average. In the last five years, the police force has been cut by fifty-five officers.
But the clearest evidence of our need for law enforcement is our own eyes and ears. Most of us know someone who has been burglarized, and many of us have ourselves been robbed. We have tended to blame the lack of a prompt police response on the police force, without really thinking through what happens when “government” shrinks, “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
When we shop at a store without enough employees to provide good service, or sit in a restaurant without sufficient servers, we experience a sense of neglect. But in those cases, we don’t blame the help, we blame the owner.
We’ve forgotten that we’re the owners of government, and, like the proprietor of the restaurant, we need to hire enough help. The Norquist crowd will always claim the problem is the result of government waste, but Modesto and Stanislaus County have had a long succession of ultra-conservative leaders. They cut until there was no more to cut, then they cut some more.
There are plenty of strong arguments against Measure X, but those made by Grover Norquist’s acolytes are not among them. The anti-government hysteria of the last thirty years has not resulted in a better quality of life for America’s middle class, and budget-cutting has not brought Modesto a safer or stronger community.
Like those who would close down the federal government, the Norquist crowd’s loyalty is not to Modesto, but to a failed ideology. Their reality is skewed by tea party principles that seek to rise above law and gravity into an airless realm where the rules don’t apply.
Meanwhile, we need more police officers. It’s that simple.
Next: The second category: Strong arguments against Measure X, and why they aren’t strong enough.