When is it wrong, or at least of little usefulness, to ask the people their opinions on public issues?
When it’s all about partisan cynicism and hypocrisy, ladled with a generous dollop of raw selfishness.
Example: Over the past several days legislators have considered two referendum proposals for the April ballot. One advanced by Republicans asks voters if residents should be required to find work in order to qualify for Wisconsin welfare benefits. The other advanced by Democrats would survey voters on restoring abortion access in the state. No surprise, majority Republicans supported their plan and dumped the Democrat idea.
Here are the key points. Any such public vote is non-binding, meaning politicians are free to ignore the results. By the way, Wisconsin already requires welfare recipients to provide proof of weekly job searches. The real motivation for the parties is to gin up turnout from their base — particularly this year, when control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is at stake — by placing a question with emotional pull on the ballot.
Over a long career I’ve often advocated on behalf of referendum votes — the binding kind. Wisconsin does not have provision for what is often called initiative and referendum, which would allow citizens to gather enough petition signatures to place questions on the ballot and allow voters to adopt policies by going over the heads of the politicians. No surprise, the political class is opposed. The change would require a constitutional amendment.
But just imagine. Binding votes on term limits. On nonpartisan redistricting that rules out gerrymandering. Or a multitude of other issues where public support goes directly against the grain of political self-interest.
Advisory votes are just about gaming the turnout. Initiative and referendum could score real change. Corner your elected representatives and find out where they stand.
Ever enough?Speaking of self-interest, as an old retired guy I’ll confess to my own on a particular subject.
Namely, why do we have to tax people right to the grave?
When folks are working and earning, putting kids through public schools and colleges, consuming more public services and so forth, paying a fair share of those costs ought to be required.
For a lot of retired people, though, making ends meet is a gamble every month.
State Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, wants retirement income to be tax-free for individuals making below $100,000, or couples earning below $200,000.
My suggestion: Take away all property taxes on retirees’ primary residences, too. Some folks are house-rich and cash-poor and can be pushed out of their homes by rising assessments.
Fair question, in my mind: Is it ever enough? Must the tax collector chase the hearse to the cemetery?
Slowpoke lawIn South Carolina, legislators are upping the consequences for slow drivers poking along in the left lane on interstates and other highways. A $25 ticket could become a $100 ticket, with the incentive that most of the extra money goes to help fund state police.
Wonderful. It’s annoying as all get out when traffic is tied up behind somebody snooze-driving in the passing lane.
The kicker, of course, is whether police enforce the law. Lots of states have slowpoke laws but seldom are tickets written. It’s like those laws aimed at people talking and texting, oblivious to other drivers. In fact, don’t be surprised if some of those slowpoke drivers in the left lane are off in their own little world because they are talking or texting.
Too often, laws like these are nothing but feel-good measures. Sound good. Rarely enforced.
Bad behavior isn’t changed by good intentions. Write ‘em up.