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Taxpayers need new bill of rights

The capacity of business groups and business ‘needs’ to shape policy agendas and decisions is because business executives come to be admitted to circles of explicit negotiations, bargaining, and reciprocal persuasion, for which ordinary citizens are excluded ...”

— Charles Lindblom, “Politics & Markets” (1977)

In the post “Great Recession” era, this dynamic is being challenged on all fronts — at the federal, state and local level. While the Dodd/Frank bill is not the most robust law to regulate the banking industry (the folks who are “too big” to fail), it has changed the narrative of public discourse.

We must move from anger and cynicism to challenge the prevailing pro-business “mobilization of bias” that made the Great Recession happen. The same has to happen at the state and local level as well if our scarce taxpayer dollars are to be used wisely.

We must make corporations accountable for tax credits and/or breaks they get as “job creators.” The same must happen to hold land speculators and high-tech firms accountable to prevent them from running roughshod over land-use planning laws and/or from polluting our air and water.

Will it be easy? Of course not.

Was the labor movement easy? No. Was the civil rights movement easy? No. Was the women’s movement easy? No. Was the environmental movement easy? No. Was the disability rights movement easy? No. Was the gay rights movement easy? No. But they all have one thing in common: at some point people concluded, “change had to happen.”

You want to put the fear of God into the 1 percent and corporate America? Ask of them what they demand of our schools via bogus ideas of school reform. Demand they be measured by “performance-based standards.” If the 1 percent and corporate America want their tax credits or breaks, make them prove the taxpayer money they get serves the “public interest” rather than filling their private bank accounts.

Let’s have a “taxpayers” bill of rights. You want the taxpayer to invest in you, then open your books to be audited to prove your business plan creates real jobs, doesn’t pollute the air and water and uses a “best practices” test of how land is built upon. Remove the “special position” that business has in the political arena — make them accountable!

“Politics is the authoritative allocation of values,” said David Easton in “The Political System.”

The American public has to understand that no matter where the locus of decisions are made in the private or public sectors, in the boardroom or in halls of government — decisions that affect the distribution of resources, land, people or budgets are inherently all “political” decisions and should be subjected to public scrutiny and oversight. If the business of government is business, then business must be accountable to the public.

It’s way past time to open the process up to public scrutiny. In the real world, technical or budget decisions in the private or public sector are all political decisions. Whether in Gucci Gulch in D.C. or in the Salem Puzzle Palace when business, labor, public employees or special interests lobby for favors — the distinction between the private sector and public sector disappears.

The only measure that should count is not which interest group is being served, but is the “public” interest being served? That’s the real bottom line.

Russ Dondero is professor emeritus, Department of Politics and Government, at Pacific University in Forest Grove.



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