The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The arrogance of power (local edition)

There are states (like Connecticut) where the counties count for nothing in government. But here in Maryland, counties are important. The cities are mostly small (Baltimore is the only large one, and it is treated as if it were an additional county; note that there is also a county called “Baltimore County,” but it is entirely separate from the city, though they are adjacent.) and many areas, even densely urbanized ones like Silver Spring, are unincorporated areas, so even many of the things that cities do in other states are county responsibilities in Maryland. For example, neither schools nor firefighting are responsibilities of cities in my county. The county runs both, even in incorporated cities; the cities do have their own police departments, but because so many of the areas you might think were cities are unincorporated, the county police are most of what you see.

Two years ago, the county decided on a new source of revenue. Currently ambulance service is provided by the fire department (except for two areas with a separate “rescue” station). Some of the firefighters are paid professionals, others are volunteers; I've never heard of such a hybrid setup anywhere else, but that's the way it is. Whether the service is provided by the fire department or a separate rescue service, it is free of charge. The County Council passed a law, and the County Execuive signed it, mandating a fee for ambulance service. (They put in a provision that if you had no insurance, you would be forgiven the fee — of course, this provision would likely be abolished in the future, if the County Council decided they could use the additional money. Everyone knows how fees and taxes inexorably increase over time. And even for the insured, their premiums will, of course, increase since the insurance companies will base their premiums on the likely cost of their providing service) Now in Maryland, we do not have the initiative, as they do in the West, but in most cases county and state laws can be voided by a referendum. And opponents of the ambulance fee succeeded in putting it on the ballot a couple of years ago, and it was killed by the voters by a substantial margin. (The vote was approximately 54% to 46%. This is the only case in county history where a referendum has overturned a county law.) Well it seems that the County Council cannot take “no” for an answer. The same County Executive, Isiah Leggett (yes, that first name is spelled oddly, but that is how he spells it), has gotten the County Council to revive the ambulance fee.

It looks like there will be another ballot referendum. And the County government is pushing hard for the voters to change their minds. Despite the quoted editorial from a local paper, I do not think the County can convince the people that things are any different from two years ago. But this arrogance of the County government is a clear sign of the power relationships here in the county. The Council has never had more than 2 out of 9 members who were not Democrats (though a Democrat, Councilman Philip M. Andrews, has led the opposition on the ambulance fee question) and currently is 9-0 Democratic, so county politicians perceive themselves as not subject to the voters' removing them. The last referendum fight caused a very sharp divide between the paid firefighters (who supported the fees) and the volunteers (who opposed them), so the County, after the referendum, reorganized the fire and rescue services to reduce the volunteers' power. But, just as two years ago, the volunteers have been in the forefront of the struggle against the fees.

Has anyone seen such arrogance? But I suppose it is to be expected in a county whose voters are supportive of Pres. Obama, the most arrogant politician of recent history.

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