Pontious Pilates name is well-known to religious people. As the government representative responsible for allowing the execution of Jesus Christ, whom Pilate knew was innocent, the Roman governor is immortalized as an example of a public official who did what was popular rather than what was right.
Pilate suffered for his actions. From letters he wrote to the emperor Tiberius, we know Pilate was haunted - almost to the point of insubordination - for allowing the mob to rule. And after he was sent to Gaul in disgrace a few years after Jesus execution, Pilate committed suicide.
Pilates story proves that theres nothing new about politicians struggling between doing right vs. whats popular. When the two are the same, everybody wins. But all too often, doing whats right isnt going to win votes.
Columbia County experienced this phenomena with the stormwater utility, a tired old topic that still gets people grumbling about impervious surfaces and other unheard-of phrases.
Faced with deteriorating drainage systems installed by developers during the 1980s and earlier - before any of them served in public office - commissioners could have done nothing, just like prior office-holders. Instead, they took the politically unpopular step of setting up the stormwater utility fee.
Those commissioners have been beaten up - or, to some degree with Frank Spears, beaten at the polls - for not applying the fee to a large enough area, or for applying it to too many people; for calling it a fee instead of a tax; and for making schools and churches pay (though Columbia Countys schools are still negotiating their payment).
Its widely despised, and is still being challenged in court. But the stormwater utility is bringing in millions for repairs that otherwise wouldnt have been made. Popular? No. Right? Yes.
That was the quandary Sonny Perdue stepped into when he was elected governor of Georgia. He discovered the states budget was in far worse shape than the already bleak picture painted by ex-Gov. Roy Barnes.
Barnes left behind a lame-duck booby-trap: In his final year in office, Barnes funneled money to the districts of supporters to help them get re-elected, and promised property tax cuts funded by the over-collection of state taxes (what politicians call a surplus). He knew reckoning would come this year when the budget had to account for the shortfalls.
If that reckoning included tax hikes, it wouldnt hurt Barnes - because he would have already been re-elected. But its a killer for his successor, who must face voters in four years.
Perdue walked headlong into the trap, but did so with his eyes newly opened after a thorough review of the states books that were kept for 130 years by his Democrat predecessors. Those 13 decades have given state agencies experience in hiding waste, and made speedy production of a balanced budget impossible without more revenue.
The trap has snapped shut; now, Perdues opponents are attacking him for what amounts to his willingness to do what he thinks is right.
It eases the pain that Perdue wants to boost only sin taxes on smokers and drinkers. And lawmakers, who face voters in two years rather than four, will probably find money to give teachers a modest cost of living increase (not a pay raise).
Perdue, like Pilate, had a choice: He could have done the politically popular thing by hacking at the state budget rather than taking time to find real spending problems, and by talking tough on taxes instead of seeking increases in areas where Georgia lags.
And unlike Pilate, Perdues critics in the Legislature cant wash their hands of the shared responsibility for Georgias budget problems. If they dont like his ideas, theyre welcome to come up with better ones.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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