Pondering role of government

At a recent meeting, Milford Selectman Gary Daniels gave us, and we suspect his colleagues and some Milford residents, something to think about.

In suggesting that selectmen prioritize spending items after thinking about the function of government, he said, as a for instance, that providing recreation in the town budget is questionable, as is some so­cial services spending.

"If it is not a core function, take it out of the operating budget," Daniels said.

He called his suggestion a conversation starter.

Well, no harm done there. We should talk about spending, we should consider how and where to spend taxpayers’ money, and we should be cognizant of what we want and need to provide for voters.

But …

As a good conservative, Daniels clearly believes in the concept that the least gov­ernment is the best government, and in the world inhabited by the nation’s Founding Fathers, that might have been so, and if we could somehow go back it time, it might be so for us. The problem arises when people put monetary concerns ahead of social wel­fare.

That is the conundrum, and it is, we think, the core question that Daniels is actually raising when he asks us to think about pri­oritizing spending. What are our priorities as citizens? Or, perhaps more to the point, what should they be?

Should the priority be keeping taxes down, down, down?

Or should the priority be making sure that all of our residents are safe, secure, able to hang on to their homes, and to have enough food and medicine for themselves and their children?

You know, of course, that the answer this paper has always given is the latter. Gov­ernment, we believe, has a responsibility to do more for its citizens than just maintain a standing army or, in the case of a town like Milford, a police force and a school system.

Many conservatives, and perhaps Dan­iels is one such, believe that government should just get out of the way and let people fend for themselves because in so fending, they will find their own way out of whatever morass they happen to find themselves and become self-made men and women able to prosper in a society based upon capital.

Maybe.

Certainly, that is true of many people. There are examples aplenty of people who have done just that, but there are also ex­amples aplenty of people who have tried but failed because of external or extrani­ous forces that mitigated against them.

People born in an inner city, for instance, have less of an ability to boot-strap it be­cause their school systems tend to be poor, because the best teachers don’t want to teach there. Why should they when they can make more money and find more apt pupils in Scarsdale or Short Hills or Am­herst? Who can blame them?

But, then, doesn’t government have a role? Don’t we all benefit when more people, particularly those who have little chance on their own to make it, actually do make it? Would it not be wise, for instance, for federal, state or local governments to provide monetary enticements to men and women to teach in poorer communities? Suppose a government were to pay to edu­cate a teacher in a four-year college and in return, that teacher had to give that govern­ment four years of work in a downtrodden school system? Would we not all benefit?

And don’t we all benefit from healthy children and adults? Thus, doesn’t govern­ment have a role in providing recreation? If not government, who?

The answer, to most conservatives, is privitization, and we say good luck with that. What private concern would fund an after-school soccer program for kids who are not on the high school team? Or a pick­up basketball game for adults in a school gym?

Daniels hasn’tt raised an issue that hasn’t been raised before and that will not be raised again, and there is no reason not to discuss it ad infinitim. But sometimes, it seems to us, the conservative ideal is that we’re all on our own and good luck to us.

Sure, discuss it, as Daniels suggests, but if things like recreation and welfare end up as warrant articles, people on fixed in­comes – and that’s another issue that con­servatives often like to ignore – might be wont to vote against them because, after all, they are on fixed incomes and any cost they can save is money they probably need, given that nothing will save them from the constant looming of the property tax, which makes them pay the same for their house even after they are no longer working.

And yes, we know that the Milford town budget has been rejected by taxpayers two years in a row, but that doesn’t mean the town should punt on what we believe to be government obligations, and recreation and social services are surely among them.