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Oglesby: New ideas should be embraced

POSTED: February 2, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson is taking a lot of heat these days over his controversial proposal to eliminate the property tax and replace it with a sales tax, eliminating most of the exempted items.

The most controversial feature is having the legislature control the disbursement. That has city and county officials deeply and rightly concerned. I’m mostly with them on those concerns. Nonetheless, I am glad Richardson advanced a new idea with possibilities if it were better crafted. To understand my reasoning better, let’s fast-backward to the federal Fair Tax proposal making the debate rounds.

Many people have jumped me, some angry, because I don’t buy it hook, line and sinker and don’t support it in the current form. That doesn’t mean I’m not glad it has been proposed and is being debated and in the debate process improved.

Dissent is THE prerequisite to progress. The fact that the idea can be improved is confirmed by the other fact that every time the book goes into a new printing, amendments are made correcting some of the faults the debate exposed and improving on some other provisions. If this keeps up, we may yet find and actually implement a better, less costly and fairer way to finance our federal government’s real needs. Isn’t that what we all really want?

Same thing holds for Richardson’s idea. Instead of roasting him as a populist using the idea as red meat to get an early upper hand in the next governor’s race — where his toughest opponent is likely to be our hometown native, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — why not focus on exploring ways the problems we are citing can be overcome to the degree we actually can reform a state tax system that badly needs reform?

That’s instead of dismissing Cagle’s, Gov. Perdue’s and the local officials’ opposition mostly as efforts to slow down Richardson’s gubernatorial aspirations, or to keep him from effectively controlling the distribution of the sales tax funds (as proposed, he certainly would).

Indeed, the same underlying principal should be applicable to other major public issues. Instead of demonizing the originators of proposed changes, analyze and see if any can be improved to the degree they might work. Examples abound.

Our health care system needs improvement. I strongly opposed Hillary Clinton’s proposal in the early 1990s, and just as strongly oppose her newest proposal as it stands. Nonetheless, she has done the country a favor by stirring up the issue. The fact that I oppose it as it stands doesn’t mean it is void of some good and potentially workable ideas.

Instead of dismissing them out of hand because they come from her, we’d be better off seeing if any parts could become part of an effective reform we could support. No telling what responsible dissent to her plan could do.

Another example was President Bush’s effort to rescue Social Security from its impending bankruptcy. Democrats wouldn’t budget until he made a proposal. When he did, he opened it up for debate that could improve it.

They promptly and flatly said they wouldn’t debate his plan until he took a key element completely off the table and eliminated it from the plan entirely. And they didn’t. And the resulting lost time has greatly increased the cost of staving off bankruptcy.

This is the type of leadership many polls say so many Americans want come the next election?

Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. Reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly.



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