October 31, 2007

Jack-O'-Lantern Politics

It's Halloween, and 'tis the season for governors in red and blue states to sell budgets to the public. In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is barnstorming for his recently passed massive property tax cut. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is on tour promoting his menu of proposed tax reforms and slot machines construction.

As in Chiles' day, the tactic of many a Democratic governor is "scare 'em so you can tax 'em." You present an "Armageddon" or "Apocalypse" budget, with state services and spending cut so bad you can barely count on your trash getting picked up. You talk about how the status quo is unacceptable because the budget deficit is $1 billion or more. Then, once you've got folks spooked, you show 'em the alternative: your grand vision for a bolder, active, smart government with the tools to invest in our health care, education, and environment. We'll call it the "Investment" budget, or the "Responsible" budget. Finally, you reveal the fine print on whose taxes get raised and how much, and you hit the road for the "tax-and spend" tour.

There are lots of variations on this scenario, but it amounts to an old-fashioned honey and vinegar policy. To know why government needs fixin', you've gotta show how bad it can get and how good. A lot of editorial writers and voters complain about "scare tactics" anytime a hypothetical budget with zero education spending gets leaked, but isn't on man's scare tactic another man's truth? Call it slick PR, call it bait-and-switch, to me it's about as harmful as carving a jack-o'-lantern on Halloween.

Thanks to the Angry Sicilian for the great Halloween picture.