Tuesday, January 13, 2009

By the Few for the Many

So for all these many years there has not been a statewide trauma system in place, and the need is now so great for “all” Arkansans according to Gene Shelby, Mike Beebe, Bob Johnson, and Robbie Wills, that the relatively few smokers in Arkansas will be required to pay for it and sustain it with an additional .50 cents per pack of cigarettes. To further complicate the situation, according to Gene Shelby, it is hoped that ultimately the added tax will actually encourage smokers to quit and discourage others from picking up the habit in the first place. Noble cause perhaps and noble intent for sure, but what happens if the ideal is eventually attained and a large enough group gives up the habit after the tax is raised, this new program is launched, and the money is appropriated? Where will the funding come from then for a program that presumably “all Arkansans” are in desperate need of? Another added “sin” tax, perhaps on beer? Again, targeting a defined and limited group doing something they perhaps should not be doing in the first place but the state allowing such practice or lifestyle to continue if only for the revenue it will produce?

Dr. James Graham, chairman of the Governor’s Trauma Advisory Council, was quoted in Saturday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (1/10/09) as having said, “There’s an enormous public knowledge gap. A lot of people think this already exists. They think if they’re in a car accident today, they would be taken to the right hospital and get that superior care.”

All due respect intended to the good doctor for his obvious knowledge and experience, but in cases of such trauma as auto accident or gunshot victims in which bleeding control is likely to be the priority, will there ever be a time in which the victim will be taken to a “wrong” hospital, one that is incapable of bringing such bleeding under control but whose care is still much closer for the sake of time and blood loss? My limited medical knowledge notwithstanding, it seems to me that EMT’s and other emergency rescue workers as well as hospital personnel have done a pretty fair job in emergency situations so far in deciding where a trauma victim should be taken and treating them adequately once they have arrived. That some die due to sustained injuries and that some survive is still going to be a reality. How can we be convinced that an addition $30 million is somehow going to change this? And in the certain reality of the current economic situation, how can we be convinced that now is a good time to raise any tax or create any new spending measure that will require sustained funding?

As it currently stands, the economy is faltering because people are losing jobs and have quit spending or borrowing money. The president-elect is proposing a diminished tax withholding schedule so that workers will have more take-home pay to spend in an effort to provide some relief to consumers who are still lucky enough to even have jobs and to provide a boost to the downward spiraling economy, but Arkansas legislative “leaders” suppose that a trauma system is needed more. Even in such a climate in which uncertainty is the key word, some members of Arkansas’ legislature are considering delaying the elimination of the grocery tax for these very reasons of uncertainty. This number includes House Speaker Robbie Wills who is reportedly “lukewarm” to the elimination of the grocery tax due to “the uncertain economic climate”.

It is in such times as these when genuine leadership is essential. If such revenue is so desperately needed to fund a brand-new program that “all” Arkansans need and might benefit from but have so far been able to live without, then genuine leadership is going to require that these presumed “leaders” actually lead the way rather than merely point. This is to say, these “leaders” will be required to raise taxes on “all” Arkansans and convince us of the need rather than pick on an unpopular group. If such a trauma system is so desperately needed, these “leaders” will not only be willing to help finance it from their own pockets but will also be able to convince Arkansans that a more stable revenue source will be required in order to ensure the survivability of the desperately needed program that some seem to think we can no longer live without.

One cannot help but to wonder exactly what these legislators actually know about the current economic environment and if they are as free-spending with their own household budgets as they are willing to be with the state’s. If they cannot afford something for themselves under existing conditions, do they have some source of income from which they can demand more simply because they have discovered something they can no longer live without even though they have lived their entires lives without it? I doubt it. I suspect they would be more prudent with their own than they are willing to be with the state’s.

The economic crisis is real and will, according to many, get much worse before it will get better. Our state legislators need to plug in and at least pretend they are aware of this certain reality. We have enough taxes and we have enough programs. Our legislatures can only take so much from the people before they start cutting into the bone and muscle that will ultimately revive and sustain this economy. It is time for us and our legislators to realize that it is ok not to raise any tax on an already overwhelmed population.

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