The airline industry is a funny thing. It's one of the few professions where the least experienced practitioner is given the most difficult task, while its most seasoned members are challenged so little that the biggest worry they have is that of falling asleep in the cockpit.
The newest recruit out of flight school is the one who, with perhaps a couple of hundred hours of experience, is put behind the controls of a small turboprop to hand-fly passengers across the Rockies, in a blizzard. The veteran pilot, with decades of seeing it all, has to do nothing but strap himself into his seat in his 747, a machine with more redundancy than an Escher lithograph, and push the button with the name of his destination airport on it.
It's as if the first thing a new doctor out of medical school did was brain surgery, while being paid $20K a year, and the last thing he did, before retirement, was wart removal, while being paid $500K.
Politics is a little like the airline industry, too. Most people who bother to follow politics at all do so at only a superficial level. They worry about national politics -- who is going to be president, and not much else. But, if they get a little more into it, they might start thinking about who their state's governor is, then perhaps the makeup of the state Legislature, and so on.
So on down to the level of local government. Town boards. City and County Councils. County Commissioners. Township trustees. The school corporations. But I'd wager that less than 10 percent of Monroe County, an enlightened community, can name a majority of elected officials who hold those offices.
Which is exactly opposite, like the career paths of an airline pilot, from what it should be. I've said it often here, and elsewhere, it is local, not state or national, government that matters most because it is local government that each of us sees, and is affected by, every single day.
So let's think about it. Let's think about what it is.
What we're paying for
Let's start with funding. Who pays for the cost of local government, and how? The largest source of revenue for local government comes from a tax on property -- land, buildings and big pieces of equipment. The second largest source comes from a tax on the income of those workers who both live and work in the county. And third, from a portion of the state sales tax that everyone pays whenever they buy most goods.
Yes, there are a few other ancillary sources, but those are the big three. So what do they pay for? Schools, mostly. Then public safety in the form of police, jails, firefighting and courts. Finally, public infrastructure. Roads, bridges, sidewalks, libraries, planning, zoning, etc.
Those "big three" account for approximately 85 percent of all local government spending. Education. Safety. Community. It's hard to imagine anything more local, nor more important than those. State and national issues be damned, or at least take a backseat, if you would.
The cost of civilization
"I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization," said the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes. "The subjects of every state out to contribute toward the support of the government ... in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they enjoy under the protection of the state," said the father of Capitalism, Adam Smith.
Holmes said taxes were the cost we paid to have a civilization. Smith said that we should pay for that civilization in proportion to what we had to lose, should that civilization fail. In other words, Smith argued for a progressive taxation system wherein those with the most to lose, i.e. the wealthy, paid more than those with less, i.e. the poor.
Hence the emphasis on taxing property, for it is local government that more than anything else protects the value of private property. And the more property one has, the more one should pay to protect it.
But this quaint and equitable calculus has never set very well with those in power, the elite and the wealthy. And since its inception, the tax on property has been under relentless assault.
Which brings us to the present day, where everyone from Eric Miller (a cross between a reincarnated Aimee Semple McPherson and Joseph Goebbels if I ever saw one) to Peggy Welch (D-Heaven) is going on about "property tax reform."
Which, dear readers, is code for "funding civilization, for the benefit of the rich, on the backs of the poor."
Consider this: property taxes are eliminated. What does that mean? It means that those local government functions that used to be funded by property taxes get shifted, instead, to some other tax. What kind of tax? Personal income and sales.
Who doesn't pay personal income and sales taxes? You got it, corporations. Which means that their shareholders suddenly see a washing wave of dividends, since those corporations no longer have to pay for schools, fire protection, the police or the roads, all of which make their business viable in the first place.
Yes, the rich get richer, the poor, poorer. That is the sine qua non, an essential quality, of Indiana politics.
If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.
Gregory Travis can be reached at .