Citizens expect taxes to be spent in interest of justice

Instead of raising taxes, governments raise fees. According to the official “Rules of Politics Playbook,” the worst thing a politician can do is raise taxes. Instead, one can start charging taxpayers more for things like fishing licenses and construction permits.

Some of us do believe in progressive taxation but allowing politicians to raise taxes at will is an easy alternative to making hard decisions about workforce numbers and overtime and whether or not you really need that new police cruiser or another dump truck.

Did you ever notice that some issues at town meetings will cause people to raise questions but others won’t? Do you think it’s possible that when the question of a new fire house or police cruiser is considered, some folks may be afraid of ticking off the very people they might really, really need at a moment’s notice? I would argue that’s why secret ballots at town meetings, though cumbersome and time consuming, are really important.

It doesn’t stop there. How about those letters we get every year from police departments asking for money, not for the town, but for their own police associations? In some cases we hear the argument that the police association will use the money for charity but it’s still not a good idea.

Occasionally, there is institutionalized governmental policy that we have to worry about. One of the ways in which towns fill their coffers is through speed traps. When we vote for police budgets, we often think that the police will be there to stop crime.

If the real reason the police are around is to fill government coffers and stop middle class speeders who are going faster than 20 mph, then I wonder whether the state doesn’t have an obligation to do some policing of their own. Just in case you think this is sour grapes because I have been caught, let me assure you, I have not. I am trying to train my car to go slower than 20 mph.

Speaking of police and arrests, every time I see an 18- or 20-year-old man being sentenced for a heinous crime, I wonder whether we are really talking about a man or a child. Hey, if such a perpetrator kills or maims or steals, they still have to take responsibility.

Remember all those young people of the same age who are in the armed forces. I can only shake my head and wonder how, at the crucial moment of choice, these young people make decisions that effectively ended their life options. How would you like to be the judge who had to sentence such a young person to prison for years? It can’t be easy.

Having the title “judge” can be a mark of prestige but there have to be scenarios that would cost most of us lifelong visits to a therapist, to say nothing of continual nightmares. There are perpetrators and there are victims. Both need to be treated fairly, although if your child was the victim of a brutal assault, it can’t be easy seeing a judge being sensitive to the person who committed the crime.

When a young person drives drunk and kills a 4-year-old, what is to be done with such a killer? Putting a kid behind bars for the rest of his adult life in such a case seems senseless. On the other hand, what kind of message are we sending if the punishment for snuffing out a life is just a year or two in jail?

This is, of course, an imperfect world. Our prisons are seldom places that foster rehabilitation. More likely, they are hellholes. Crime is going down in this country but too often, senseless, stupid crimes committed in the heat of the moment end in disaster. The result is awful.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/7/15

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