Jim Terry
February 23, 2011
Virtual representation
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By Jim Terry

What goes around comes around. Somewhere along the way in America's experiment with democracy, has the U.S. Congress begun to act like the British Parliament of the eighteenth century?

"No taxation without representation" was the popular phrase in the American colonies before our war for independence from Britain. It found its way into our Declaration of Independence in the list of grievances against England and King George who, as Jefferson and the other founding fathers wrote,"... has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:" Among the grievances listed, "For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent."

At that time in England, about one out of ten adult males was eligible to vote. As W. E. Lunt says in his History of England (Harper and Row, 1956, 555), "...but the other nine did not escape taxation."

Since the American colonists did not elect members of Britain's parliament, they did not believe the parliament had authority to impose internal taxes on the colonies. Lunt further explains, "Representation in the colonies and in England meant two different things. In most of the colonies taxes could be voted only by representatives in whose election many of the taxed had had an opportunity to take part. In England this had never been the theory or practice of representation."

Historian T. Harry Williams referred to America's representation in the British parliament as virtual representation.

How does taxation without representation play out in modern America?

Washington has always felt a need to rescue certain groups of Americans, whether farmers during the depression years, Chrysler in 1979, or the pension fund of union workers at General Motors.

Before the Chrysler bailout, however, American taxpayers were called upon by Washington politicians to bail out New York City. In 1975 the city was in near financial ruin because of liberal spending and fraudulent bookkeeping practices. New York City's financial situation had gotten so bad that a 25% increase in the city's income tax and increased taxes on businesses could not prevent default by the Big Apple. Finally, after Governor Hugh Carey and the state legislature did all they could, or would do politically, they turned to the deep pockets of Washington. In the end, New York City was saved, the American taxpayer was reimbursed and the rest is history.

Most of the bailouts have been in the form of loans and most have been repaid to the U.S. Treasury. However, according to the website, ProPublica, (http://www.propublica.org/) not all the federal government's bailouts have profited American taxpayers.

In recent days we have heard of cities, school districts and states across America at risk of bankruptcy. To avoid the possibility of bankruptcy or the discipline of responsible budgeting, California Governor Jerry Brown is asking the legislature to allow the public to vote on extension of tax hikes put into place in 2009 and which expired at the end of 2010. If California voters want to tax themselves for programs their politicians tell them they need, at the levels those politicians desire, that is their business. But, California voters and politicians should not expect residents of any other state to rescue them from the financial pit they, themselves, dug.

If Brown does not get his way on the ballot issue, or if California voters turn down the tax extension, will he run to the deep pockets of Washington for rescue? Unfortunately, the only thing in Washington's deep pockets are IOU's to China, compliments, in most part, of the Obama administration.

Recently, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated emphatically that the government of the United States will not bail out any state. With the U.S. House of Representatives currently in Republican hands, he may be able to back up that statement.

What has happened to the American view of representation in two and a half centuries?

Why do Washington politicians think they have the right to impose taxes on a resident of Ohio, for example, to pay the bills run up by irresponsible politicians in California who the voters of Ohio did not elect? Or worse, by what reasonable thinking can Washington politicians bail out a private corporation whose board of directors has allowed it to sink into debt with taxes from Americans who did not elect the corporation's board of directors?

Perhaps the time has come to renew the once popular slogan, "No taxation without representation."

© Jim Terry

 

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Jim Terry

Jim Terry has worked in Republican grassroots politics for 40 years. Terry was an administrative assistant to a Republican elected official in Dallas for twenty years. In 1996, he ran for and was elected to Justice Court 2 in Dallas County where he served eight years. Contact Jim at tr4guy62@yahoo.com

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