Monday, November 20, 2006
What types of land use questions should be decided by the voters, as opposed to their representatives? In this era of widespread referenda, let me express a note of skepticism over the practice of having the voters make policy choices. Voters often do not understand the issues they are asked to decide -- not because they are stupid, but simply because they haven't had the occasion to think deliberately before they reach the voting booth (the media is to blame for much of this problem). And while the electorate presumably is immune to influence-peddling, it is also not as inclined as representatives to consider the nuances and consequences of difficult choices. (At this point, I recognize that my comments may remind one of the views of the deranged colonel in Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove, who asserted that war shouldn't be left to politicians, as opposed to colonels, because they do not have the time, training, or inclination for strategic thought.) What does make sense for pure democracy, I contend, is for citizens to vote on whether they are willing to spend their own tax money for undeniably socially beneficial expenditures.
With these comments in mind, it is heartening to read that the American voters approved the great majority of land preservation tax and bond initiatives that were on the ballot across the nation earlier this month. More than three-quarters of these efforts passed, according to CNN, and are worth more than $5 billion. Voters seem to like the idea of using public money to pay for parks and other conservation lands. I'd be even happier if I thought that the typical voter thought, "It's important for the environment and future generations to protect natural land," as opposed to, "Let's stop development near me; the traffic is getting terrible."