and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
May 2003 #3

Aesop's fables foretold of Democrats crying wolf
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News 
Thursday, May 15, 2003

As I was going through the old books I'd saved from my childhood, looking for some to send to the grandtwins, I rediscovered my favorite -- "Aesop's Animal Fables in Verse, Picture and Game."

The book contains lessons for a lifetime.

From the tale of the donkey and the lap dog: "That's a lesson all should learn. We each have our jobs to do. What may be right for someone else, may not be just the thing for you."

Thus my decision to become a taxpayer activist, but not a political candidate.

From the story of the fox and the crow: "When you listen to lies, you must show no surprise, when you are fooled, you know!" That's a lesson in how to survive in a career of political activism.

And you may recall the one about the boy who cried wolf: The shepherd boy liked to trick the villagers by telling them that a wolf was after his sheep. When the wolf actually showed up, no one believed him.

I suppose it really wasn't funny when the flock got eaten. But one has to laugh at the inevitability of it.

The moral of that story: "Liars are not believed even when they tell the truth."

This probably also applies to people who exaggerate and threaten dire results if they don't get their own way. I thought of that one recent Sunday morning while waiting for John Henning's "News Conference" on Channel 4, on which I'd made a taped appearance in opposition to the Internet tax. (From "The Dog in the Manger": "Learn a lesson from the dog, and when you can, employ it. If you can't use a thing yourself, let those who can, enjoy it." The application here: Just because customers of retail stores must pay the sales tax is no reason to extend it to those who shop by catalog or on the Internet.)

I was early turning on the TV and found Bob Schiefer and his guests on "Face the Nation" discussing the Bush tax cut. One insisted that money should instead be sent to the states, which are struggling with budget shortfalls. He mentioned cuts in police, fire, etc., and Governor Gray of California "having to cut funds for prosthetic devices" for missing limbs.

Schiefer laughed out loud.

There was a moment of stunned silence, then an apparently embarrassed Schiefer apologized. But I knew exactly what had happened.

Having heard the litany many times over, he was waiting for the obligatory threat to the handicapped. So when it happened on cue, he laughed at his prescience.

Twenty-two years ago I was invited, along with people of various political persuasions, to one of the local TV stations to preview some ads against Proposition 21/2. The first one showed policemen, firemen, teachers, the elderly, all being "harmed" by the property tax limit.

Out loud I asked, "Where is the handicapped, freckle-faced kid?" and on cue, there he was, freckles and all, wearing a neck brace. Some people laughed then, too.

Yet spending advocates never seem to learn. Whether there is a reduction in the rate of increase for their program, level-funding, or an actual cut, the rhetoric is the same: "There will be blood in the streets, along with devastation, destruction and disaster."

With Proposition 2, people were too angry about high property taxes to care, even if they believed the dire threats. In a later fiscal crisis, they were fooled by the fox, and saw temporary taxes made permanent and used to spend us into yet another fiscal crisis.

We now hear about a $3 billion budget shortfall. I have found, by simply asking people, that many of them believe this means the state has to get by on $3 billion less than it had last year. Not so.

According to the House charts, last year's budget was $22.783 billion. The budget for the fiscal year ending in June is expected to be $22.779 billion. The budget for next year just passed by the House is for $22.5 billion. That's a cut of almost $300 million, not $3 billion.

The Senate has yet to act, and the Romney administration initially proposed a budget of $22.8 billion.

Thus "the great budget shortfall" is only a cut in what the Legislature wanted to do had it been able to increase spending by its accustomed billion dollars a year.

When people hear budget level-funding called "devastating," some of them start to tune out. Others, I suspect, may laugh.

The real problem is, if we do have a genuine fiscal crisis and the wolf is really at the door, who is going to believe the shepherd boy?

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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