Friday, January 31, 2014

Kneejerk Reactions

As the National Grange Master/President, every now and then I am quoted on a topic for a news release, by the media, or I write a blog or article. Often it draws no comment and one wonders if anyone reads it. Occasionally, it draws a bit of opposition and support and people send comments or emails to me. 

It is a fact that people who like something send in their comments in far fewer numbers than those who dislike something you have said. What is interesting is how few opposing comments are civil and respectful. Depending upon the topic, the response normally is an attack on my intelligence, a questioning of my values, an accusation of partisanship, or the charge that I’ve abandoned the Grange values.

If criticism of an elected official’s actions or words is made, their supporters will quickly jump to their defense. If a Grange policy is promoted that someone disagrees with, then the messenger is wrong. This gives me more evidence that the highly-charged partisan world we live in has serious problems.

I believe that the extreme partisanship we see in many politicians is the result, not of their leadership, but of the intolerance of their constituents. When we as the people, are not being civil and tolerant, why would many of our elected representatives choose to be above the fray? And those who disagree with the disrespectful often find themselves labeled as extremist simply for a difference in opinion.

When we react to things without thinking, or take the position that we are right and any differing view is wrong, it is human nature not to listen. Regardless of if your point of view is partisan or a specific policy position, the moment you cease to listen to other viewpoints, your argument is weakened and you cease adding to the discussion.

America and the Grange are supposed to be places where disagreement is acceptable; where the minority can express themselves and have a voice; where the majority has its way within our broad structure, yet takes no rights away from the minority; where each listens to the opinions of all.

The Grange encourages healthy, civil debate among its members. Discussion of issues and events are done outside the partisan arena and only our members create Grange policies. We view elected officials as representing all their constituents, and criticism or accolades are given based on their actions, not party affiliation.

When our members react in an uncivil “kneejerk” fashion, we explain why that position was taken. The teaching of Grange philosophy in the area of civility remains a constant process. New members are often unaware of this fundamental value and grow to appreciate it. Older members can forget this value on occasion and be thankful for a gentle reminder.

America needs the Grange philosophy of civility and respect for all. Our doors are open to any wishing to explore this old-fashioned idea. As our members say throughout the country, “Welcome to the Grange!”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Congress Needs To Make Their PILT Payments

The budget recently passed gives us a deficit reduction while increasing spending by 45 billion dollars. The reductions are based upon a 10 year projection while the increases are immediate. Do you remember the last time the government met a 10 year projection?

In addition, the payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) program ended with the June 2013 payment to rural counties. Now Congress says they’re going to fix the problem without increasing spending.

PILT payments are essential to many rural counties throughout America, especially in the western and southern portions of our nation. Many of our rural counties are composed of 50 to over 90 percent federal lands. The federal government does not pay taxes on these lands, but have for years compensated those counties with PILT payments. 

Rural counties tend to have small and efficient government, simply because they don’t have many resources to start with. Low population and an agricultural or natural resource base tend not to generate the tax dollars that dense populations and industry do. Yet a rural county means schools, law enforcement, health care and more are often spread across a large area and that distance creates an increased cost to deliver basic services.

Many of these counties are dependent upon the small business, farms, ranches, and tourists that use these federal lands. Yet the Forest Service, BLM and other agencies ultimately control the fate of those counties by their management or restrictions of these public lands.

Congress must deal with this issue quickly or many county governments will be adversely impacted this year. I worry that Congress will once again act too late or not at all. If they act, will they create a solution or just band-aid the problem and kick it down the road until after the next election?

Our county governments have enough uncertainty without Congress adding more. Congress needs to re-implement the PILT payments this spring. Their challenge is to do so without just printing more money. Perhaps a return of a portion of the public lands to those counties and allowing them manage these lands for the benefit of the county is a solution. Ranchers and foresters might welcome local management that recognizes the uniqueness of their local area. Tourists might welcome local people who open up the parks when Washington shuts down temporarily.

No idea is perfect, but not making PILT payments does nothing but harm to our rural county governments.