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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What Are Clean Water and Safe School Buses Worth to You?


Do you ever wonder how we set our priorities? How we decide how much we should pay in taxes? And where we should spend those same tax dollars?  We hear the politicians say they will cut our taxes and still provide all the government services we need and want. Do you ever wonder about that?

No doubt you’ve heard about very high levels of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Children suffering brain damage and drinkers—of water that is—facing a variety of health issues. Now it turns out other American cities have the same problem.

Just the other night on the national news a school bus carrying a high school basketball team on its way to a tournament overturned. Luckily, no one died. But many were injured and many more were lucky they were not more seriously injured or killed.

The photos of the overturned bus and the young people scrambling or being pulled from the wreckage were awful. And this type of accident is not unusual. It seems almost every other day there’s a story about a school bus accident.

The news channel ran a brief illustration of how the kids in that bus were bounced around--as compared to what would have happened if they had been wearing seat belts.

Those images have been bouncing in my brain the last few days. I wondered why our school children have to depend on luck rather than seat belts to keep them from serious injuries in the event of an accident.

My brain tends to digress into seemingly unrelated matters. So as I turned off the TV, I wondered how many TVs, cell phones and other latest “must have’s” we all own. USA Today reports the average home now has more TVs than people. According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of American adults own a cell phone; 64% have a smartphone. You know I could go on with these statistics. But you get the drift.

Then a little phone survey caused me to do some more thinking.

The first question was, “Do you think you pay too much or too little in taxes?”

I answered “Too little.” In my head I was wondering how much higher the taxes would have to be to require seat belts in all school buses. If we paid a little more in taxes and bought fewer TVs could we buy some of those seat belts?

Back to the survey. A brief intake of breath revealed the surveyor was startled but, to his credit, he stuck to his script. He said “OK. Thank you.” Those same words were used to respond to all of my answers.

His next question was: “Do you think we have too much or too little government regulation?

I answered. “Too little.” Those kids bouncing around the school bus was still bouncing in my head.

Again, the surveyor stuck to his script, though I thought I could detect a note of panic. Maybe he had encountered a Bernie Sanders supporter—or even a communist—in his midst or at least on the phone line.

There were a few other questions. Like going through a box of old school papers you get the drift and don’t need to read every word on every page.

The surveyor was true to his word, the survey was short—or else he gave up on ever getting the answers he expected.

So much for the enthusiasm of the young. No doubt I killed this young man’s hope of making a difference in politics, at least if he supported the obvious political agenda of the survey perpetrators.

Or, maybe he was just a young person doing a job and getting paid. And he’d never before encountered someone who answered the questions in a way other than agreeing all federal taxes and regulations should be decreased to the point that the federal government would be small enough to be drowned in bathtub—the self-proclaimed goal of small government Tea Party activists.

For the record, if you are keeping score—I am not a Bernie Sanders Socialist—even though I think he has a lot of good ideas and has helped at least the Democratic Party talk about issues we might not otherwise be discussing.

I am not any kind of socialist, let alone a communist. I’m just a mother and grandmother who believes our country has a number of serious problems, to name just a few--climate change, consumer safety, clean water, even school bus safety—that are big enough and complex enough the federal government needs to be involved if we have a hope of doing a better job protecting the American people.

Who would have thought five or six survey questions could have caused me to do all this wondering? And probably not the kind of thought process the survey creator intended.

What I also started to wonder is why children in one of the richest nations of the world suffer permanent health issues and brain damage from high levels of lead in their drinking water.

Just another wondering thought: have more Americans been injured in school bus accidents, or through environmental issues, like contaminated drinking water, than in terrorist attacks. I haven’t looked up the answer but maybe you or I should.

The TV announcer said only six states require seat belts for school buses. That means in 44 states the State governments did not have the money, political will or whatever to require seat belts on school buses. The announcer also said the NTSB once again is looking at whether the federal government should require seat belts for school buses. The only problem is it costs a lot of money.

Of course it costs a lot of money. And I, like most people, would rather spend my money on my needs and wants rather than pay higher taxes. Lord knows my bills are going up all the time. It seems there always is something else that is broken, needs fixing or replacing. And also, I have to admit--that new iPhone-mini I just saw online looks awfully interesting.

There’s a saying--the Good Lord helps those who help themselves. But I don’t think that means I should refuse to pay higher taxes and not consider the health and well being of everyone else.

I hope you, like me, are willing to ask yourself, “What is more important for us to invest in than the safety of our children?” That is not a rhetorical question. If you ask yourself that question and can answer there really is something more important to spend your money on than making sure our children have safe drinking water, clean air, and safe school buses then maybe we don’t need more government regulation. And then maybe we also don’t need higher taxes.

On the other hand, if you agree that kids growing up in this country ought to have a chance to reach their full potential with safe water, safe air, safe school buses, then you should also consider before you pull that lever when you vote, how the Presidential candidates and other officials you elect will answer those questions.