We are periodically amused — although it's becoming less and less amusing — by complaints from anti-tax types about elected officials who have the audacity to enact new fees or taxes.
The latest riposte on this subject comes from Phoenix, where the City Council recently adopted a $20-a-month water bill surcharge to help pay for police and other city services.
In response, an opponent complained that the council's approval of the fee had "taken away residents' right to vote."
The complaint is baseless. First, there is nothing in the city of Phoenix charter, the Oregon Constitution or the U.S. Constitution that restricts elected officials from enacting taxes or fees. Beyond that, the vote does not take away anyone's right to vote, as evidenced by a new initiative effort to overturn the council's decision. If the voters want to vote on it, they will get the chance.
The Phoenix complaint is just one variation on a familiar refrain. Whether it is part of a concerted effort to evoke outrage or merely an uninformed opinion, the objection is now routinely raised whenever elected officials enact new taxes.
No doubt, some of that is driven by Oregon's initiative and referendum process, which puts direct power in the hands of citizens to make decisions on issues ranging from taxation to cougar hunting. People apparently have become so accustomed to voting on money measures that they think it is a mandated right.
But they're wrong. Our democratic system is in reality a republican system (note the lower case of both adjectives; this is not about political parties). Ultimate power rests with the people, but we elect representatives to carry out our wishes in running the government. Pure democracy, in which every decision is decided by a vote of the people, is not a practical way to run a government. The average citizen does not want — and would be ill-prepared — to vote on whether to sign off on the vacation of an alleyway or to approve a laundry service contract for the jail.
The initiative process is an important tool, because it provides citizens with a check on government. But it is only one of the tools in the bag of governance used in this state and in local jurisdictions. We elect officials to carry out the public's business and, whether we agree or not, that sometimes involves raising taxes.
New moms in shirt-waist dresses, baking cookies from scratch and knitting baby sweaters, are part of our past. It's more likely that today's mom takes a three-month maternity leave and then heads back to her job.
Last week, Gov. Ted Kulongoski recognized that reality by signing a bill giving nursing moms a helping hand in the workplace. The bill requires Oregon employers with 25 or more workers to make "reasonable efforts" to provide a clean, private space for moms so they can take advantage of unpaid rest periods in order to nurse their babies or pump breast milk.
The new measure has something for everyone in helping babies get the benefits of breast milk, allowing their mothers an easier path back into the work force and improving the likelihood that businesses can keep valuable employees.