Where he stands: Andrew Yang

One in a series profiling Democratic presidential candidates – in their own words:

 

https://www.yang2020.com/policies/

 

Freedom dividend

Andrew would implement the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income of $1,000/month, $12,000 a year, for every American adult over the age of 18. This is independent of one’s work status or any other factor. This would enable all Americans to pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future.

Other than regular increases to keep up the cost of living, any change to the Freedom Dividend would require a constitutional amendment.

It will be illegal to lend or borrow against one’s Dividend.

A Universal Basic Income at this level would permanently grow the economy by 12.56 to 13.10 percent — or about $2.5 trillion by 2025 — and it would increase the labor force by 4.5 million to 4.7 million people.  Putting money into people’s hands and keeping it there would be a perpetual boost and support to job growth and the economy.

  • Approximately 40 million Americans live below the poverty line.
  • Technology is quickly displacing a large number of workers, and the pace will only increase as automation and other forms of artificial intelligence become more advanced. One-third of American workers will lose their jobs to automation by 2030, according to McKinsey. This has the potential to destabilize our economy and society if unaddressed.
  • Good jobs are becoming more scarce and Americans are already working harder for less.
  • It is necessary to support and preserve a robust consumer economy.
  • Many Americans are stuck in the wrong jobs because of a need to survive.
  • Many positive social activities are impossible for many to do because they lack the financial resources to dedicate time to it, including taking care of a child or sick loved one, and volunteering in the community.

Health care

  1. Control the cost of prescription drugs through negotiating drug prices, using international reference pricing, forced licensing, public manufacturing facilities, and importation.
  2. Invest in technologies to make health services function efficiently and reduce waste by utilizing modernized services like telehealth and assistive technology, supported by measures such as multi-state licensing laws.
  3. Change the incentive structure by offering flexibility to providers, prioritizing patients over paperwork, and increasing the supply of practitioners.
  4. Shift our focus and educating ourselves in preventive care and end-of-life care options.
  5. Ensure crucial aspects of wellbeing, including mental health, care for people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS detection and treatment, reproductive health, maternal care, dental, and vision are addressed and integrated into comprehensive care for the 21st century.
  6. Diminish the influence of lobbyists and special interests in the healthcare industry that makes it nearly impossible to draft and pass meaningful healthcare reform.

Human-centered capitalism

The central tenets of Human Capitalism are:

  1. Humans are more important than money
  2. The unit of a Human Capitalism economy is each person, not each dollar
  3. Markets exist to serve our common goals and values

As President, I will …

  • Change the way we measure the economy, from GDP and the stock market to a more inclusive set of measurements that ensures humans are thriving. New measurements like Median Income and Standard of Living, Health-adjusted Life Expectancy, Mental Health, Childhood Success Rates, Social and Economic Mobility, Absence of Substance Abuse, and others will give us a much clearer and more powerful sense of how we are doing both individually and as a society.
  • Rein in corporate excesses by appointing regulators who are paid a lot of money – competitive with senior jobs in the private sector – but then will be prohibited from going to private industry afterward. Regulators need to be focused on making the right decisions and policies for the public with zero concern for their next position.
  • The government should create a modern time-banking system that will reward people and organizations who drive significant social value.

In addition to GDP and job statistics, the government should adopt measurements like:

  • Median Income and Standard of Living
  • Levels of engagement with Work and Labor Participation Rate
  • Health-adjusted life expectancy
  • Childhood Success Rates
  • Infant mortality
  • Surveys of National Well-being
  • Average Physical Fitness and Mental Health
  • Quality of Infrastructure
  • Proportion of Elderly in Quality Care
  • Human Capital Development and Access to Education
  • Marriage Rates and Success
  • Deaths of Despair / Despair Index / Substance Abuse
  • National Optimism / Mindset of Abundance
  • Community Integrity and Social Capital
  • Environmental Quality
  • Global Temperature Variance and Sea Levels
  • Re-acclimation of Incarcerated Individuals and Rates of Criminality
  • Artistic and Cultural Vibrancy
  • Design and Aesthetics
  • Information Integrity / Journalism
  • Dynamism and Mobility
  • Social and Economic Equity
  • Public Safety
  • Civic Engagement
  • Cybersecurity
  • Economic Competitiveness and Growth
  • Responsiveness and Evolution of Government
  • Efficient Use of Resources

Climate change

Achieve net-zero emissions goal – 2049

  • 2025 – Establish net-zero standards for newbuildings
  • 2027 – New nuclear reactors begin to come online
  • 2030 – Zero-emission standard for all new cars
  • 2035 – 100% emissions free electric grid
  • 2040 – Net-zero for all transportation sectors
  • 2045 – 85% methane recapture
  • 2049 – Fully green economy

Budget Overview (Direct Spend)

$400 billion invested in Democracy Dollars over 20 years

$10 billion invested in a debt forgiveness fund for rural co-ops

$200 billion invested in Grid Modernization over 15 years

$50 billion invested in the next generation of safe, clean nuclear power over 5 years

$250 billion invested in net-zero emission ground transportation over 15 years

$80.8 billion invested in net-zero emission air transportation over 15 years

$285.5 billion invested in sustainable agricultural, forestry, and land methods use over 15 years

$5 billion invested in research for sustainable materials over 5 years

$45 billion invested in National Labs over 15 years

$3 trillion to finance loans for household investments in renewable energy over 20 years

$60 billion invested in vocational and apprenticeship programs over 15 years

$70 billion invested in combating rising sea levels over 20 years

$25 billion in pre-disaster mitigation grants for high-risk hurricane communities over 10 years

$122.5 billion invested in fire prevention and combating wildfires over 5 years

$90 billion to establish and fund the Climate Change Adaptation Institute over 20 years

$800 million invested in geoengineering research methods

$200 billion discretionary spending to fund additional necessary programs over 20 years

TOTAL INVESTED OVER 20 YEARS: $4.87 Trillion

As President, I will:

  • Create the American Scorecard to better measure our environmental quality and sustainability, and treat it as a primary measurement of our economy and well-being.
  • Pass legislation requiring large corporations to document the externalized costs of their environmental impact.
  • Pass Climate Risk Disclosure bills to incentivize divestment in oil companies and other heavy polluting industries.
  • End all fossil fuel subsidies and use that money for retraining programs and subsidies for low-income individuals to transition to sustainable energy sources.
  • Stop all new leases for oil and gas companies on public lands, and end any existing lease.
  • Fight against any new pipeline or similar infrastructure, especially any that would cut across contested land.
  • Create more aggressive Clean Power Plan targets, and end the grandfathering-in of old plants that haven’t been sufficiently upgraded to trigger NSR.
  • Provide a $10 billion debt forgiveness fund for all rural co-ops that are relying on non-renewable sources who want to replace their plants with renewables, and provide public financing/securitization options for rebuilding with sustainable energy.
  • Commit to equipping and powering all federal buildings with American-made efficiency and clean energy technology.
  • Work to create standards allowing common elements of systems (e.g., batteries) to be easily replaced as the technologies develop.
  • Create a plan to recycle elements (e.g., batteries) that become obsolete.
  • Set sustainable infrastructure standards for all new buildings; buildings that are being rebuilt or upgraded; and all federal buildings.
  • Propose a carbon fee and dividend system that:
    • Sets an initial carbon tax of $40/ton, which would increase in regular intervals of $5/ton for the first four years and then $10/ton until it hits $100/ton.
  • Create a border carbon adjustment to protect American goods that would:
    • Charge a fee on imports from countries that don’t impose a similar carbon fee, or some type of carbon tax.
    • Provide a rebate on exports to countries that don’t impose a similar carbon fee, or some type of carbon tax.
  • Dedicate at least half of the money raised through the fee to dividends specifically designed to help Americans afford transitions to sustainable energy sources and vehicles.
  • Create a “Race to the Top”-style competition to drive innovation in our grid system by the private sector.
  • Invest $50 billion in incentives for private companies and investment in new modern infrastructure.
  • Invest $150 billion in upgrading our current electric infrastructure systems.
  • Invest $50 billion in research and development for thorium-based molten salt reactors, and nuclear fusion reactors, to provide a green energy source for Americans.
  • Engage in a public relations campaign to update the reputation of nuclear reactors.
  • Have new nuclear reactors start to come online by 2027.
  • Immediately create a system similar to the ZEV program in California, and require all vehicles starting with 2030 models to be zero-emission.
  • Invest $50 billion in EV charging stations in nonurban areas.
  • Create a $200 billion grant program to states to convert their public transportation systems (trains, buses, school buses) to electric vehicles.

Pass the Aircraft Emission Act, requiring:

  • All commercial, private, and government aircraft to move toward low-emission standards as is technically feasible by 2040.
  • Government investment of $2 billion in carbon capture technologies research and $9.5 billion over 15 years in installing carbon capture systems that can equal out the remaining limited amount of air travel emissions.
  • Government investment of $300 billion over 15 years into research for alternative aircraft fuel.
  • Provide grants and guarantee profitability for farms that experiment with new, sustainable techniques.
  • Increase farm bill subsidies by $75 billion over the next 15 years for farms that experiment with new, sustainable techniques.
  • Invest $2 billion in research for vertical farming techniques.
  • Direct the Department of Agriculture to provide reports to states and private enterprises to help them improve their grazing and livestock land management.
  • Work with states to determine sustainable crops for their areas, and suggest changes as climate change continues to advance.
  • Increase funding to biogas programs by tripling the current annual mandatory funding for biogas to $200 million.
  • Authorize a $500 million increase to federal agencies tasked with maintaining land to increase afforestation while rejuvenating high-carbon ecosystems such as peatlands, wetlands, rangelands, and mangroves.
  • Invest in research for drought-resistant crops.
  • Provide $300 million in tax credits to incentivize supermarkets to waste less food, either through donations or inventory management changes, and to source more local food.
  • Create the Renewable Energy Building Association – REBA – to loan up to $3 trillion over 20 years to individuals to purchase heat pumps, solar panels, batteries, and other technologies for their residences. If households choose to take advantage of this, they will pay off these loans at a 3% (or lower) interest rate and will end up paying less annually than their previous energy bills.
  • Research coastal communities that are likely to be impacted by rising sea levels and provide property owners with information about risks and options.
  • Make up to $40 billion available in subsidies, grants, and low-interest loans to individuals who wish to elevate or relocate their homes, or move to higher ground.
  • Help communities plan for rising sea levels with expertise and information.
  • Invest $30 billion in high-risk cities to build seawalls and water pumps, upgrade roads and sewer systems, and rejuvenate beaches to serve as barriers to rising sea levels.
  • Invest $25 billion over 10 years in helping communities that are likely to be impacted by repeated hurricane and flood damage to make their communities more disaster-resistant through pre-disaster mitigation grants.
  • Re-evaluate the way FEMA and the NFIP determine where structures can be rebuilt, taking a stricter stance against rebuilding in danger zones.
  • Quintuple the budget for the U.S. Forest Service to $24.5 billion for at least five years, and specifically tailor it to focus on fire prevention, and promote partnerships with local experts on combating wildfires in their areas. This will more than pay for itself by preventing megafires.
  • Work with federal agencies such as the EPA to adjust how specific metrics are measured to take a more long-term view of the costs and benefits of prescribed fires.
  • Work with Congress to pass legislation aligning incentives for states, developers, and homeowners towards fire prevention and avoiding high-risk areas.
  • Establish a National Fire Insurance Program that provides insurance for homeowners in high risk fire zones, with a stipulation that homes must take preventative actions such as defensible space and reevaluation standards in case locations are determined to be dangerous for rebuilding.

Establish a Climate Change Adaptation Institute with a starting annual budget of $4.5 billion to monitor the ongoing effects of climate change and propose new adaptation measures, including:

  • Better urban planning, better farming methods, and better land use, especially with respect to water management during droughts.
  • Educational drives to inform people on how to cope with heat waves, and prepare treatment centers to quickly respond to and treat individuals suffering from the effects of a heat wave.
  • Better equipping local officials to respond to emergencies such as floods, droughts, landslides, mudslides, avalanches and outbreaks.
  • Provide $800 million to NASA, the Department of Defense, and NOAA to research, experiment with, and test geoengineering methods that will either give us more time to deal with climate change, or give us options should we hit a climate tipping point of which we aren’t aware.
  • Convene a global summit on geoengineering. Many researchers in the U.S. and other countries are doing work in this field – if we bring them together we can formalize and accelerate our learning and build a global approach.

Criminal justice

As President, I will…

  • Work to end the use of private prison facilities for federal inmates.
  • Shift drug policy away from punishment and towards treatment.
  • Invest money to fund innovative prison programs that decrease recidivism and increase reintegration.
  • Invest money to support businesses that hire felons who have served their prison term.
  • Push to reconsider harsh felony laws that prevent those who have served their prison term from reintegrating into society.
  • Identify non-violent drug offenders for probation and potential early release.
  • Support the full legalization of marijuana at the federal level and remove it from the controlled substances list.
  • Expunge the federal convictions of all marijuana-related use or possession offenses.
  • Identify non-violent drug offenders for probation and potential early release.
  • Work with states to decrease their reliance on cash bail, providing assistance and grants for various programs to increase trial attendance without the need to incarcerate people ahead of conviction.
  • Implement a federal program of pre-trial services that would be made available to states, such as a text message system to remind individuals of their upcoming court dates.

Education

As President, I will…

  • Immediately reduce the student loan payments for millions of Americans by ensuring that the American government does not profit one cent from its educational loan servicing and that students get the same interest rates as the wealthiest bank. Any profit that the government does realize will go into reducing rates the following year until profit is zero.
  • Explore a blanket partial reduction in the principal of school loans, especially for recent graduates with the largest debt levels, and forgiveness for debt beyond a certain period after graduation.
  • Propose the 10×10 Student Loan Emancipation Act, a plan by which the federal government would buy student loan debt (negotiated rate with the private lenders) and allow students to opt into a plan to repay it through pledging 10% of their salary per year for 10 years, after which the balance would be forgiven.
  • Ask schools to forgive in part or in whole the debts of those who do not graduate.
  • Initiate a program that allows graduates to pay a percent of income instead of a fixed amount.
  • Establish a commission that will explore debt forgiveness or reduction for students who sought degrees under false pretenses.
  • Change bankruptcy laws to make it easier to discharge educational debt.
  • Expand a program that forgives the debt of graduates who work in rural areas or with underprivileged populations.
  • Close schools with high loan default rates and consistently low employment placement success.
  • Police and prosecute all marketing representations of schools that might induce enrollment under false pretenses.
  • Allow student loan debt to be discharged through bankruptcy, thus forcing lenders to work with students in good faith to find workable repayment plans.
  • Increase funding to vocational programs within public schools.
  • Direct the Department of Education to provide materials to all public schools about career paths that don’t require a college degree.
  • Prioritize career paths that students express interest in rather than giving blanket advice that college is the right/only option.
  • Begin a public education campaign championing vocational jobs and education, “I Work With My Hands – And It’s Awesome.”
  • Ensure HBCU federal funding levels are equitable when compared to similar schools.
  • Commit $250 million in federal funds to provide training programs in grant writing for faculty and staff at HBCUs.
  • Provide $7.5 billion in federal funding for general infrastructure improvements including facilities and academic resources, as well as $750 million for building out a fundraising infrastructure.
  • End any practices that allow banks to charge HBCUs higher fees, and provide public funding options to ensure that all HBCUs can receive lower rates.
  • Help strengthen HBCUs with support for loan forgiveness and salary incentives through $1.5 billion in federal funding to recent PhDs who commit to teaching at HBCUs.
  • Strengthen and empower the White House Initiative on HBCUs by providing $6 billion in federal funding for scholarships and internships through the organization, and by encouraging them to engage in dialogue with HBCU leaders on strengths and weaknesses of various programs.

Government reform

As President, I will…

Pledge to personally:

  • Divest from all personal investments and business interests, and place all assets in a blind trust.
  • Disclose the previous 10 years of my income tax returns.
  • Accept no speaking fees or board positions for personal gain after leaving office.

Hold my cabinet officials to a higher standard by:

  • Increasing salaries for government officials who operate in a regulatory capacity to much higher levels, but ban them from receiving anything of value in exchange for advocating for a position (lobbying) to members of the federal government.
  • Providing an Anti-Corruption Stipend for all members of the Executive Branch after the termination of their employment, to be paid as long as they don’t accept anything of value in exchange for advocating for a position to members of the federal government.
  • Firing anyone in my Administration who accepts money from lobbyists for a personal legal defense fund they’ve established to defend from any wrong-doing, whether while in office or before.

Work with Congress to pass legislation that:

  • Raises the next President’s salary to $4 million and simultaneously bars them from receiving any speaking fees or board positions for personal gain after leaving office.
  • Prevents individuals serving in government from accepting money from lobbyists for a personal legal defense fund.
  • Create a new executive department – the Department of Technology – to work with private industry and congressional leaders to monitor technological developments, assess risks, and create new guidance. The new department would be based in Silicon Valley and would initially be focused on Artificial Intelligence.
  • Create a new Cabinet-level position of Secretary of Technology who will be tasked with leading the new department.
  • Create a public-private partnership between leading tech firms and experts within government to identify emerging threats and suggest ways to mitigate those threats while maximizing the benefit of technological innovation to society.

Family/social cohesion

As President, I will…

  • Work with Congress to pass the Equality Act, the Do No Harm Act, and any legislation extending protected status to individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Restore the Voting Rights Act to protect against voter ID laws that can deny transgender individuals access to the ballot box.
  • Allow transgender people to serve in the military.
  • Appoint LGBTQ+ individuals to senior posts in my administration.
  • Restore voting rights to individuals convicted of felonies and prohibit states from denying ex-felons the right to vote.
  • Restore voting rights for current inmates unless they have deprived someone else of their right to vote.
  • Prioritize all initiatives to expand and restore voting rights in the U.S. to the previously and currently incarcerated.
  • Create a Department of the Attention Economy that focuses specifically on how to responsibly design and use smartphones, social media, gaming, and chat apps. It will include overall guidelines, as well as age-based ones.
  • Direct the Department to investigate the regulation of certain companies and apps. Many of these companies essentially function as public utilities and news sources – we used to regulate broadcast networks, newspapers, and phone companies. We need to do the same with technology companies now that they are the primary way people both receive information and communicate with each other.
  • Provide guidance (and regulation, if needed) on design features that maximize screen time for young people, like removing autoplay video for children under 16, removing the queues that allow infinite scrolling, capping the number of recommendations per day, reducing notification signs and “like” counts, and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine when children are using devices to cap screen hours per day.
  • Establish rules and standards around kid-targeted content to protect them from extreme or inappropriate content.
  • Incentivize content production of high-quality and positive kids programming similar to broadcast TV.
  • Require platforms to provide guidance on kid-healthy content for parents, and provide incentives for companies that work to make user data of minors available to their parents.
  • Include classes on the responsible use of technology in public school curricula and teach children how to distinguish reliable from unreliable news sources online.

Women

As President, I will…

  • Provide every American voter with $100 Democracy Dollars for each election cycle, a voucher that they can use to support candidates of their choosing.
  • Commit to appointing women in top leadership positions in government and the military.
  • Prioritize the skills and capability over typical traditional experience for judicial nominees, thereby prioritizing women and minorities for the federal bench.
  • Implement a Freedom Dividend that empowers women to start businesses and further their education.
  • Explore legislation similar to the California law that promotes women on corporate boards.
  • Require certain diversity standards for federal contracts and development grants as a way to incentivize women in leadership.
  • Implement a gender-neutral paid family leave federal mandate.
  • Work with Congress to codify Roe v. Wade into law.
  • Appoint judges who support a woman’s right to choose.
  • Ensure comprehensive contraceptive care is covered under all health insurance plans.
  • Repeal the Hyde Amendment.
  • Fully support and increase funding to Planned Parenthood. Repeal the Title X Gag Rule and the Global Gag Rule.
  • Implement a comprehensive federal Paid Family Leave plan that provides the ability for all families, regardless of make-up, the time to heal and bond with their child.
  • Guarantee six months Paid Family Leave for all parents, making this accessible to all families and employees in the U.S.
  • Offer tax breaks for employers who offer 12 months of paid leave for single parents.
  • Ensure this policy applies to the addition of a new child by birth, adoption, or foster care.

Foreign policy/veterans

  • Work with our allies to rebuild our stature in the world, and strengthen alliances such as NATO.
  • Reinvest in diplomacy and bolster funding to the State Department.
  • Work with allies to project our combined strength throughout the world, without engaging in activities that will cost American lives and money with no clear benefit to our long-term well-being.
  • Sign a repeal to the AUMF, returning the authority to declare war to Congress, and refuse to engage in anything other than emergency military activity without the express consent of Congress.
  • Regularly audit the Department of Defense.
  • Focus our federal budget on fixing problems at home instead of spending trillions of dollars abroad.
  • Work to combat the misconception that most veterans face mental health issues, decreasing employment prospects.
  • Create mentorship programs, and work with businesses and nonprofits to do the same.
  • Incentivize businesses to hire veterans, and create programs to help with early career transitions for veterans.
  • Assist veteran-run businesses in getting off the ground, and in becoming successful.
  • Implement policies to increase the stability veterans feel, and assist in their transition to civilian life.
  • Invest in veteran mental health, and improve funding to crisis helplines.
  • Create an initiative to have senior members of the military discuss their own battles with mental health issues, and the treatment they received, to destigmatize it.
  • Provide all veterans with gun storage lockers.

Immigration

As President, I will …

  • Secure the southern border and drastically decrease the number of illegal entries into the U.S.
  • Provide a new tier of long-term permanent residency for anyone who has been here illegally for a substantial amount of time so that they can come out of the shadows, enter the formal economy, and become full members of the community.
    • This new tier would permit individuals to work and stay in the country, provided they pay their taxes and don’t get convicted of a felony.
    • This tier would put them on a longer, 18-year path to citizenship (the same amount of time it takes those born in the U.S. to get full citizenship rights), not only reflecting our desire to bring them into our country but also their decision to circumvent legal immigration channels.
  • Invest heavily in an information campaign to inform immigrant communities of this new tier of residency, and deport any undocumented immigrant who doesn’t proactively enroll in the program.
  • Support the DREAM Act as a part of comprehensive immigration and border security reforms.
  • Enhance the H-1B visa program and give workers who receive positive reviews from employers the option to remain in the country as permanent residents.
  • Enhance the F-1 visa program and automatically grant any student who graduates with at least a graduate degree a green card.
  • Personally encourage the top students of the world to come to America, start their families here, build their companies here, and then their child can become President.

Yes, taxes are necessary

What are the purposes of taxes? What should be your attitude toward paying them?

Those questions came up in a weekly Bible study I’m in. Our discussion leader skipped them, probably because the answers are – or should be – obvious.

We pay taxes for projects that you and I need but can’t afford to pay for on our own. Taxes pay to build and maintain roads, including plowing snow and fixing potholes. They pay for water and sewer projects (homeowners often have to pitch in for those). Our tax dollars pay for trash and recycling pickup every week. They pay for parks and recreation – we have awesome public parks where I live, and I don’t have to pay an entrance fee every time I visit one. They pay for libraries (remember those?). And public transportation.

Taxes pay for police and fire departments to protect us, court systems (including jails) to provide justice, and kindergarten-through-12th grade education to help our children prepare for adult life.

And that’s just local taxes (including countywide, in some cases). Here’s the 2016 fiscal year report for the city I live in, taken from the city’s web site. Page 18 includes a flow chart of what the city is all about.

http://www.cityofelyria.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/2016_City_of_Elyria_Ohio_CAFR.pdf

At the state level, taxes pay for other things, too. The biggest spending item – just over half the state’s budget – is “health and human services.” Second is “primary, secondary and other education,” followed by “higher education.”

https://obm.ohio.gov/Budget/operating/doc/fy-14-15/bluebook/budget/Section-C_14-15.pdf

At the national level, the three biggest federal programs are health care (including Medicare and Medicaid), pensions (including Social Security) and Defense.

Next come welfare, interest on the national debt, transportation, general government and protection.

https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/federal_budget_detail_fy19bs22018n

Communication crucial

What should our attitude be toward paying for such services? Hopefully, we pay willingly, since all of these services are needed.

At the local and state levels, those in charge of the budgets are required to balance income and spending. This often requires tough decisions because voters do not automatically approve taxes for every project – nor should we.

Sometimes voters get nitpicky or reactionary. Sometimes leaders ask for a Cadillac project when a Chevrolet version will do just fine. Our local school district in Michigan discovered this a number of years ago: Many school buildings were outdated and new schools in new locations were needed, and since voters had approved many previous school levies, leaders asked for a very expensive plan – which got shot down. They pared it back, asked voters for a smaller yet effective plan, and got that one approved.

Where we live now, voters recently approved a millage to build five new kindergarten-through-8th grade buildings around the city. We learned a couple of weeks ago that cost overruns led the planning consultants to recommend constructing only three buildings – on the north, east and west sides of town, leaving the south side without a neighborhood elementary/middle school.

As you might imagine, that plan isn’t going over so well. Meetings are being held, petitions are being circulated and pressure is mounting to keep the south side school in the plans.

This is the way democracy works. We expect leaders to follow through on promises. We expect budgets to be met. Creativity is required here.

This is why we pay taxes. Every local citizen has the right to express his or her viewpoint on this crucial issue. Our leaders will make the call, but they are accountable to us. And we will be heard.

The benefits of taxes

If we have a job, and if we own a home or even pay rent, we pay taxes. When our Founding Fathers set up our country more than 200 years ago, they set it up this way. We can tweak the system – are property taxes the best way to collect local funds? – but taxes will get collected in some form.

So often, we focus only on how much we pay. We need to be reminded of what we receive. We take trash collection for granted, for example (unless it’s not collected for some reason, in which case residents will howl very loudly). We want our street plowed in the winter, and complain when it’s one of the last to get cleared. (Hopefully traffic volume determines the priority for street plowing.) We recently learned that our city has only 10 employees that plow snow and fix potholes. For the entire city. No wonder they can’t clean every street the moment it snows.

We get what we pay for.

At the state level, they’re talking about combining the K-12 education budget with the higher education budget, creating one huge education department overseeing all of it. State leaders want to streamline everything; opponents say K-12 and higher education have different purposes, and should remain separate.

Not sure that plan will fly, but we’ll see.

No balanced budget, no decisions necessary

The federal government is not required to balance its budget, so Congress often avoids the tough discussions that local and state legislators must have. That skyrockets the federal debt. Is that sustainable?

I’m one of those who would like to see a mandated balanced budget, forcing legislators (and the president) to actually do their jobs. Not every constituent will be happy. Welcome to the real world. (Pork projects might actually get eliminated, since priorities would have to be set.)

We need a federally funded military to defend us across the world. I don’t think anyone would object to that. But how big should the military be? What weapons do we need, and which ones cost more than the benefits they provide?

I wish we could debate those things. At least, I wish our elected leaders would debate those things.

Are they spending our tax dollars wisely?

We have a right to ask that.

Taxes are a given. They pay for goods and services all of us need.

As we debate how our tax dollars are spent – locally, statewide and federally – let’s give thanks for the government structures that our Founding Fathers established.

The system is good. The devil is in the details.