BARTH: The Founders would demand a do-over

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LET'S TAKE a look at a recent day in the news - just one day - and see what it tells us about government, and your wallet.

• Rock County, Wisconsin, officials are poised to consider a multi-year facilities plan following a needs study. At the high end of potential costs, the numbers add up in the $150 million range. The plan examines a new jail, a new sheriff's department, improvements to health facilities and the fairgrounds.

• Beloit Turner is ready to kick off its information campaign leading up to a November referendum calling for spending about $26.5 million to improve educational facilities.

• In Winnebago County, Illinois, the continuing budgeting feud rolls on with the sheriff's department, as the county prepares to enter the next cycle with a $4.2 million deficit. The county operates on a razor's edge. One board member, expressing fears over what will happen if a strong economy falters impacting tax revenues, said, "We have no money in the bank."

• AS WISCONSIN gets set to choose between incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democrat challenger Tony Evers, each candidate is taking shots at the other over budgeting and taxes. Walker says Evers will raise taxes and trigger economic failures. Evers says he does intend to raise taxes on the wealthiest people and lower them for the working class. Walker has prioritized business needs and incentives for economic impact, and Evers wants to prioritize education, health care and infrastructure. Under either side, overall spending goes up.

• Debate in Illinois makes Wisconsin look like the gold standard. Incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, considered America's most likely to be "flipped," accuses Democrat challenger J.B. Pritzker of planning to raise taxes. Pritzker wants to dump Illinois' flat tax and replace it with a progressive income tax that would raise taxes on the rich. Meanwhile, the two-year budget impasse in Illinois caused state debt to explode. Whoever wins in November perhaps should ask for a recount. This is a mess, and taxpayers are saddled with billions in red ink, which means paying more is a sure thing.

IF AMERICA'S founders could see through the fog of time what their descendants have wrought, they likely would demand a do-over.

It's fair to say the Founders wanted decentralized limited government, guided by free minds and free markets. Apparently, they put more trust in us than we deserved.

What we have delivered over nearly two and a half centuries is such governmental mission creep that, today, people rightly may feel they work for the government rather than the other way around. The public sector has become the place Americans turn to assuage every need and mitigate every problem, which explains why frugality and small government are obsolete terms.

Meanwhile, pandering politicians are only too eager to please when voters complain. No problem is too large or too small. No sum to fund programs is out of reach.

And since government creates no value, its only resource for revenue is tax money. To budget is to decide, and since every voters' whim and fancy is deemed equally worthy of consideration (read: spending) the appetite for rising tax revenue is never satisfied.

THIS IS NOT the government the Founders intended, vacuuming up the fruits of citizens' labor to feed the ravenous beast that represents the people's expanding demands.

Here's my thought. From townships to municipalities to counties to states to Washington, Americans today have way more government than they can afford. The sheer budgetary numbers thrown around become numbing agents. The coercive nature of forced conscription of people's money intrudes into every transaction of life.

Fiddling with the knobs and levers of government won't do. A revolutionary rethinking of the size and scope of government is needed, in concert with much more creativity about how services are delivered. Meanwhile, Americans are long overdue for serious soul-searching about where the line exists between efficient yet compassionate government and personal responsibility.

Otherwise, eventually, this beast will swallow liberty whole.

William Barth is the Editor of the Beloit Daily News.

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