CORNVILLE – You don’t have to attend a tea party rally, tune to talk radio or go online to hear complaints about taxes or encroaching government.

There is anger — or at least resentment — among many taxpayers, a cynical sense that social services are provided too often to the undeserving and that government provides little value to working people.

It was quite different when our forefathers returned from World War II. The nation’s marginal income tax was up at 91 percent, a rate that prevailed into the 1960s.

In those post-war years people were still grateful that the government had put them to work during the Great Depression and then protected them against Hitler and Hirohito.

After the war, the government sent veterans to college, financed first homes for young couples and helped entrepreneurs start businesses.

Wealthy, well-established citizens paid more in taxes because they were part of the team and could see what their money was accomplishing in their communities.

In 1952, Maine passed a sales tax, in 1969 an income tax, and in 1973 a statewide property tax to support education.

But in 1977, the tide began to turn when the statewide property tax was overturned by a people’s initiative.

In the decades since, hostility toward taxes, both in Maine and elsewhere, has continued to deepen. Anti-tax petitions have proliferated in California, Colorado and other states as well as Maine.

Meanwhile, public employees and teachers have circled their wagons and grown defensive.

They have protected their pensions with constitutional amendments, enhanced their entitlements through collective bargaining, forced supervisors to reward longevity over merit, and protected their jobs with “bumping rights” and grievance proceedings.

Anger among taxpayers is fueled by a lack of transparency in public affairs. To restore confidence in what government does, our public servants must open up and render themselves accountable for results.

Taxpayers will no longer pay on faith. They need to know what they are buying and see the value in it. Unfortunately, state government is ill-equipped to measure and report what taxpayers want to count. Public workers too often measure success by the sheer numbers they are serving.

The more people receiving social services, the more on Medicaid or the more in prison, then the more important are the jobs of public officials who administer these ever-expanding services.

But today’s taxpayers wants to see public jobs diminished, whenever possible. Progress is paying less for a more efficient, more effective government.

They expect to see fewer people dependent on public support, fewer on welfare, less crime committed, fewer recidivists returning to jail, and fewer administrators overseeing better schools.

Successful public administrators run the risk of seeing their jobs shrink. They aren’t rewarded for cutting the scale of public services or making do with less or for reducing the scope of their own jobs.

The economic incentives of state service run contrary to the taxpayers’ interests. The challenge of public leadership is to press the questions that taxpayers want answered, to count what matters, to demand evidence of accomplishment.

We must find ways to recognize public servants who succeed in diminishing public dependency, those who produce better results with fewer resources, those who place their careers at risk by reducing their own departments.

Most of all, we need public leaders willing to put themselves on the line to produce the evidence that taxpayers value, willing to be judged on the basis of proven achievements, willing to sink or swim in a translucent sea of public accountability.

That openness to judgment includes — and is the responsibility of — Maine’s next governor. Please vote in this June primary election. Don’t let others determine your choices for the November ballot.

With so few people turning out for primaries, every vote really matters. Maine’s independent spirit is part of why we love this state.

But in order to vote, independents must enroll in a party, even if they wait until June 8, the day of the primary.

People from all sides of the political spectrum are angry, frustrated and resentful.

The primary is your best chance to channel those emotions into constructive action, and to elect leaders ready to convert those sentiments into a positive force for change.



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