There's government and then there's Government

Bill Sizemore has another deal for you.

This one's called Measure 59, and if more than half of us vote for it in November, Oregon taxpayers will be able to deduct all of their federal income taxes from their state returns. Quick, now: how do you think most Oregonians will answer the question "would you like your state income tax reduced" with no explanation of what services will be cut in the bargain? And services will be cut. The measure would take about $1.3 billion out of the state treasury in the next budget cycle, and some $2.4 billion in the cycle after that, all out of a budget that totals about $15 billion.

Measure 59 will likely become law. Unless opponents can mount a brilliant information campaign, the benefit of lower tax bills will seem clearer and more tangible to voters than the cost of state services lost. More basically than that, not many voters these days are pleased with government's "value proposition," defined in Wikipedia as "what the customer gets for what the customer pays."

Why is that? Because the people you've elected to state and local office are mindlessly burning through your money? Before you answer that, try a little exercise with me. Open your telephone book to the government section near the front. Look at the names of all the departments listed under Ashland, Medford, Jackson County and the state of Oregon. Think about how the services from those departments connect to what you and your friends need for safe and comfortable lives. Then look at your property tax and state income tax bills (remembering that they also make up for the sales tax we don't have). You may not be dancing around the room with fresh gratitude, but honestly, is this the source of any heartburn you have that government's not delivering the goods?

Now turn to the government section of the phone book marked "Federal" and do the same sort of scan. Try to remember what you paid last year in federal income and payroll taxes. Now: what's your feeling about the "value proposition" your United States government is offering you?

One more question. We'll make it multiple choice: when was the last time you were invited to vote on some provision of federal taxes? Or voted on a levy for more funding for the Pentagon or Health and Human Services or the Department of Agriculture?

a) never

b) what, are you kidding?

c) ha-ha-ha

d) all of the above

The dysfunctional fact is that our only chance to weigh in on any kind of government spending is with various local levies and state tax limitations, with Measure 59 as this year's model. While we may actually have some beef with state or local issues &

no government does its fiscal job perfectly &

much of what we bring to these ballot decisions is a growing load of frustration for what is actually federal, apparently untouchable, spending.

You've heard the old joke that describes this perfectly, about the guy searching frantically on a street corner at night for his lost wallet. After an hour a bystander asks if he's sure he lost it at that spot. "No," he answers, "I lost it down that alley. But the light's much better here."

We have choices here. We can strike a blow against "government" by continuing to choke the fuel supply to the engines that provide education, health, police, fire, roads, sewer, water, parks and planning services that define the quality of our communities. Or we can start bringing more light to where we really lost the wallet.

That would start by shedding the belief that the trillions of our dollars that Washington spends are beyond our understanding and control. It would mean convincing every candidate for Congress that we are going to hold them every bit as accountable for the half-trillion dollars they spend on a hopelessly twisted Medicare drug benefit as we do a city councilor for, say, spending $37,000 on a consultant to improve internal communications.

It would mean reinforcing that message with a coordinated voice at every Town Hall meeting we can attend and monthly phone calls to Capitol Hill. It means supporting non-partisan organizations with the skill and capacity to monitor how our federal tax dollars are spent, and to report to us before we cast our next ballot. Then with that ballot we have to choose candidates who will spend our money judiciously over candidates whose main appeal is wearing flag lapel pins at every appearance.

We can do every bit of that. For a little motivational push, let me give you one more quick assignment, with a double-your-money-back guarantee that it's worth your time. Visit the website . See what that does to your sense of the "value proposition" we're getting from Washington and what you want to do about it.

is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at )

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