Wednesday, March 05, 2008

When government is good

-- by Dave

One of the staples of Republican politics since Reagan -- both at the national and the local levels -- has been to bash government as fundamentally "the problem" and to argue for tax cuts, deregulation, and other reductions in the reach of government as the solution to all our ills.

Well, as Rick Perlstein and Co. have been steadily documenting at The Big Con, it's mostly a load of hooey. While any massive bureaucracy is going to have built-in dysfunctions that have to be overcome, the reality of what we've experienced through the cumulative effects of conservative governance has spoken for itself: toxic toys and dead pets, Katrina, mine disasters, Enron, housing foreclosures ... the list of domestic disasters is endless.

And then there is the example of what happens when you get good governance.

Darryl at HorsesAss has a terrific post up about this, using our own Washington state as a prime example. As he explains, the right-wing anti-tax mantra has produced a string of initiatives all built on the notion that we need to cut back on government generally. It's used three basic claims consistently over the past two decades, really:
--The Washington state government performs poorly.

-- The state government hurts the business climate.

-- We are overtaxed for what we get out of our government.

The first two points, in fact, are simply not true:
In February, 2005 we learned just how good we have it government-wise. The Pew-sponsored Government Performance Project (GPP) graded Washington state a B+. From the individual scores, Washington ranked as the third best state government, with only Utah and Virginia doing better. When the report came out, we were in the midst of a contested gubernatorial election. The report seemed largely overlooked.

Last year we learned just how good we have it business-wise, when Forbes’ annual survey ranked Washington state number five in the nation for business climate. And Fortune magazine rated Washington the fourth best state in which to start a business—specifically citing our “low taxes”.

And earlier this week we learned how consistently good we have it government-wise when the 2008 GPP report was released. The 2005 results were not a fluke. Once again, Washington state ranks third behind Utah and Virginia. Our grade improved slightly to an A- overall. Individual grades were A- for money, A- for people, B+ for infrastructure, and A for information (see the full report for what these categories mean and how the grading was done).

Together these four reports strongly suggest that Washington’s government and business climate are near the top in the nation.

Darryl, as it happens, is a good number-cruncher, and he crunches the numbers and finds that Washington actually ranks sixth in national efficiency as far as returning value to its taxpayers -- which flatly contradicts the right-wingers' claims otherwise.

He concludes:
The perpetual whiners in this state who claim that our government is broken, inefficient, poorly performing, bloated, ineffective, incompetent, and expensive are wrong—they don’t know how good they have it. They’ve hunkered down so tightly on the compound that they’ve lost touch with reality.

The facts are plain and can be evaluated objectively…Washington state is one of the greatest values around in state government. And, judging by the recent increases in both the GPP scores and the Forbes rankings, Washington is not only a great value, but has been improving.

I've always thought we had it great here, but government hasn't been part of why I've thought that. Just goes to show how easily we can take these things for granted -- which is part of the problem, electorally speaking.

No comments: