Cole Sonafrank's

Extemporaneous Speech
As Chair of the Finance Committee
On People's Trust of Government

Delivered after the 5/13/99 public hearing on the proposed borough budget and prior to the Assembly's deliberations    This is a verbatim transcript of the unprepared speech as it was delivered to my colleagues on the Assembly and broadcast to the public.

First, to get elected politicians hoist ourselves by our own sound bites. Most folks want simple answers and most folks want to know the truth and think that they understand. And I too wish I knew the truth and that I understood what was best for our community. I have some ideas, but I don't know. I do know that the truth and what's best aren't simple and you're never going to fit'em into sound bites and you're probably not going to use them to get elected.

There's always room in any - well maybe most always room in most any - complex process to make it more efficient. And so, on-going conservatism is vital. However, cuts are not anywhere near a complete solution to our problems, whether at the local level or at the state level.

Some of our legislators, even those in the majority, fully understand that both the state and the borough governments are relatively lean. There's always room to improve, but they're relatively lean; and that we truly must decide how to raise revenues. But, as the last gentleman to testify made fairly clear, the state legislators, the city folks, and the borough folks have a tough choice. Some have decided that the only way that we can get the people of our community to understand what we have to do, whatever that is, is by making an impact. So the legislature, even the ones... You go talk to um face to face in a private room and they'll tell ya "We need taxes." They may disagree about which kind, but some real conservative folks, who really don't like taxes, have looked at the state budget and said, "We've cut and cut and we can't keep cutting." And they know that. But they also know that they got elected by sayin' they were gonna cut. They promised to cut. They're gonna do it. They also know that without an impact, nobody's gonna care.

But - and we're talkin' about doin' the same thing - they pass on an impact to local government, knowing that local government has the power to tax property taxpayers; knowing that the property taxpayers care how much they pay; knowing that the property taxpayers will react, especially if we are "forced" to have a similar impact. You know: cut the school district, cut the pools, cut the library, cut the roads.

And the fact is, I don't know. Maybe that is exactly what it takes to get folks to understand where we're at.

But I fall back on a couple other things. For me, we have a problem that isn't really a government problem. It's a community problem. It's a neighborhood problem. It's a personal priority problem. And it involves... It's kind of evolved over the last couple of generations to include a strong component of mistrusting our government.

I grew up in Maryland. I grew up in Maryland at the time when we had Governor Marvin Mandell and, uh, Spiro Agnew - some of those names might ring a bell even at the national level. These guys got convicted. Ya know, they got put away for a while. We've seen as a community nationally - luckily not locally to my knowledge - real problems and real reasons to mistrust government. And from there, over a couple of generations we've come to the point of not trusting government at any level. And we want it simple.

And when government turns around and comes to a decision that we have to make an impact, that people can understand: We're gonna cut schools, libraries, roads; What are we doing to resolve the underlaying, basic, fundamental threat to this country's democracy?

I come to the conclusion that we make it worse.

We can't talk about it in sound bites. We can't fix it in sound bites. But we also can't follow the same kind of political behavior that our present legislature is doing - that we are contemplating - and expect to have a democracy left in another couple generations.

We think we're immune, as Americans, to the problems in the rest of the world. "Our system of government can't fail. It's great." Well it isn't great if you don't trust it and it isn't great if we don't prove that it's trustworthy and worth defending.

Our first priority is education. Everybody knows it's education. It's education at the state level. It's education at the local level. But we have to get beyond the need to do everything in absolutely simple terms and just make the cuts that we know that a moron would understand. I don't believe the constituents and the folk who have their own best interest in mind are morons. And I think we have to figure out some other way, other than simple cuts, to get people to believe in their, their government again.

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