“A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The starving make few. The dead make none.”
— Moses (as interpreted by Cecil B. DeMille in “The Ten Commandments,” 1956)
There is a lot of work to be done around here. Everything from waiting tables and plowing streets to educating the next generation and inventing stuff that will make the cool gewgaws we all covet today look like so many stone tools.
In far too many cases, our culture and our government make it seem as though we are doing workers a favor by allowing them to toil for the benefit of others. Even if their reward is to barely get by.
Telling people they have to work so they will get paid is not a lie nor unnecessarily cruel. But we need to do a much better job of paying people so they can work. So they can keep home and hearth together, raise intelligent and healthy children, get around, move up, do better work and build better businesses by being at some ease rather than under constant pressure.
The plight of some people is expressed in a bumper sticker: “I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention.”
We build a civilization with a division of labor and robust public services so we don’t have to spend all our energy finding our own food, carrying our own water, protecting our own cave or carting away our own filth.
Some will always be at the top of the pyramid. Some will always be at the bottom. But if the bottom crumbles, the whole structure collapses.
Examples of how Utah’s economy and society are succeeding, and failing, to build up the base of our culture can be found in the latest state budget proposal released last week by Gov. Spencer Cox. And in how members of the Legislature, who will have the final word on setting spending priorities, will react.
A success would be Cox’s plan to make all Utah Transit Authority services — buses, TRAX and FrontRunner — free to ride for at least a year. At a cost to taxpayers of some $25 million.
That would not only help to get some of those stinky cars off the road and ease traffic snarls, it also would make it possible for a lot of people to get to work without bearing the cost of buying, fueling, insuring and fixing their cars — calculated by NerdWallet at more than $10,000 a year. Which would leave them more time and money to be better parents, better citizens and better workers.
A success would be Cox’s plan to shore up the respect we show for our public school teachers with the only tool government has easily to hand out: more pay. The governor’s plan is to funnel an additional $200 million to teacher pay and benefits, amounting to some $6,000 per educator, that won’t go through the local school board budgeting process.
A failure would be if, as reported, the Legislature uses that plan to extort another run at school vouchers, allowing parents to take the taxpayer dollars that should pay for public education and spend them at private schools, where their little darlings might be free of too much truth and too different people.
A related failure would be another round of cuts in the state’s already very small and excessively flat income tax rate, from 4.85% to 4.75%. Two years ago, it was 4.95%. Cox also wants to forego $400 million in revenue to send Utah taxpayers a one-off rebate. As little as $100 for those at the bottom of the income scale to as much as $1,300 for those at the top.
All that flows from the thinking that cutting tax revenue into tiny bits to send back whence it came makes individuals stronger. It doesn’t.
Especially for working families who are struggling to get by, every dime that makes public services stronger — schools with teachers, counselors, meals and no-fee activities; affordable decent housing; robust public transit; universally accessible health care — builds strong families and a strong culture much more than any round of tax cuts ever could.
We are rich enough as a state that there is no need to raise tax rates. Just don’t be so quick to cut them.
Business operates this way by gathering investments from many sources to create an economy of scale to accomplish things that even the smartest and hardest-working people could never accomplish on their own.
When the rich do it for their own benefit, it’s capitalism. When society does it for the benefit of all, from top to bottom, it’s called socialism.
You can call it socialism if you like. A better word for it is civilization.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is likely to spend his tax cut on almond croissants. So it would probably be better if he didn’t get one.