When It’s Finally Time To Pay Up
Wednesday - December 21, 2005
Sometimes you just gotta pay up.
For example, my old Saturn. One hundred and 10 thousand miles on it, and there’s shimmying in the steering wheel, the transmission is sticky, and I found what I think is some part of it lying by the front tire a few weeks ago.
But I’ve been putting off taking it in. You know, the family budget’s stretched a little thin; I’m trying to put money aside for a little luxury buying of my own; there are Christmas presents to purchase; dry rot on the upside of the house to be fixed.
So I tell myself that I’ll wait a while longer. With luck, it’ll wait. With bad luck, you’ll see this old man standing alongside the freeway, leaning against an old Saturn that will not run on only three wheels. And this old man will have to pay - in inconvenience and cold cash.
Last week, Donald Powell - W’s reconstruction chief for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast - told the press that New Orleans levees will be strengthened. “They will be rebuilt stronger and better than they were before Katrina,” Powell promised. (For the moment, let’s assume Powell is more competent than ... say ... “Browny,” W’s former FEMA chief.
Powell said the additional cost of rebuilding the levees to withstand a level 5 hurricane will be in the neighborhood of $1.4 billion. That’s an expensive neighborhood.
For a good quarter century, of course, we’ve known those levees needed work. The U.S. Corps of Engineers has warned administration after administration, congress after congress, that something had to be done.
But of course, in the age of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush - two conservative Republicans, a triangulating Democrat and an idiot - we put levee-bolstering off. Everybody took the “no new taxes pledge,” so we lost a storied American city to the deluge - a storied American city that may, just may, never rise again.
Or consider health care. One-sixth of all Americans have no health care coverage - that’s 46 million people. We’re real proud of ourselves in Hawaii because only 10 percent of our citizens are without coverage - that’s 120,000 men, women and children, 120,000 of our neighbors, coworkers, friends.
Of course we all pay for their lack of coverage. For many of the uninsured, hospital emergency rooms become their source of primary care - and the very expensive hospital emergency rooms must take them. But they pass the costs onto the rest of us - the insured.
Any talk of a single payer medical care system has been from the right with anguished cries of “Socialistic medicine! Why, that’s communism! That’s Bolshevism! You wanna ruin the finest health care system in the world with socialism?”
Yes, because no health care system that leaves one-sixth of the nation’s (or 1/10th of the state’s) citizens uninsured can be characterized as the world’s “finest.”
Many in corporate board rooms now understand that. ABC broadcast a Peter Jennings’ special on the nation’s health care last week in which Jennings reported that General Motors spends more money each year on health care coverage for its workers, active and retired, than it does for steel.
GM executives, facing bankruptcy because of healthcare costs and their decisions to build a fleet of gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks, have become advocates of a national health care system. That system will cost taxpayer dollars, but it will save more dollars in the private sector and make American businesses more competitive. Sometimes, you gotta pay.
Which brings me to public education in Hawaii.
The state is looking at a $535 million budget surplus this fiscal year. Them’s big bucks, and a lot of people want a few of them: the University, Hawaiian Homes, Human Services, Public Safety, and some pols who want to give voters an election-year tax rebate.
But I have a daydream in which Gov. Linda Lingle is delivering her state-of-the-state address to the Legislature. She acknowledges the needs of the university, the departments of Hawaiian Homes, Human Services, Public Safety, and all the others. She dabs a tear away for the overburdened taxpayer.
Then she leans her long, tall swimmer’s body into the podium and says, “But the state’s greatest responsibility is public education, K through 12, and I am here today to beseech you - Republican and Democrat alike - to join me in launching a renaissance in public education in Hawaii.
“We are blessed with a half-billion-dollar budget surplus, and I will ask the Legislature to spend every dime of it to repair our schools, to decrease our class sizes, to increase the number and improve the quality of our teachers.
“And I pledge to you that - if re-elected in the fall - I will be back asking for more. We cannot rest until every child enjoys educational opportunity equal to that of the children of the wealthiest among us.
“We must pay now in order that our children will have a future as bright as or brighter than our own.”
Wow! I’d give up a replacement for my old Saturn to hear her give that speech. Pay up time.
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