Up in the Hollow: A response to Mr. Miller’s cutting remarks

Editor’s note

Ben Jones sent this in Monday, May 6 — the same day that the supervisors voted at their afternoon meeting to reduce the proposed $440,000 increase in the school division’s budget by about $140,000.

My friend Jim Miller is a gentleman and a scholar. I don’t take personally the fact that we disagree on a lot of things. He understands the importance of “comity,” a rarely used word that generally means “getting along with one another.” As opposed to political “comedy,” political “comity” has become as rare as rhinoceroses in Rappahannock.

So I’m hoping that Jim won’t mind if I respond to his quoted remarks in the Rappahannock News about the last Rappahannock County school budget hearing. The story read, “ ‘Proponents of this budget say any reduction to it is apocalyptic – this is rubbish,’ said Washington resident Jim Miller, in one of the most strongly worded comments of the night. “Every budget can be cut,” said Miller, who is among the county’s better known fiscal conservatives, and who directed the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan. ‘You [the supervisors] don’t often hear from the people who pay the bills . . . I urge you to say no to this budget, or they [your constituents] will say “no” to you.’ ”

Yep, Big Jim was President Reagan’s second budget director after his predecessor, David Stockman, was guilty of heresy for saying publicly that if the Gipper cut taxes without cutting spending there would be Hell to pay. Stockman was, of course, right.

Perhaps you know the maxim: “If one were to lay all the economists in the world end to end, they would never reach a conclusion.” That Jim Miller is an economist should not be held against him. It was apparently a youthful indiscretion that led him into that infected field, and now it is too late for him to see the error of his ways. He is more to be pitied than censured.

It is ironic that the Keynesian economists who so opposed Reaganomics now claim that any success it had was due to its deficit spending, which is supposedly anathema to supply-siders. (It is my belief that a gifted economist can take a heap of numbers and make any case necessary out of them. They can “argue it flat” or “argue it round.”)

But let me go back to the quote from the school budget hearing. No one was heard saying that “any reduction” to that budget “would be apocalyptic.” But opposing further cuts is not rubbish. Opposing further cuts would be a common sense position as it stands now. This budget was cut down before it was presented. And to say that “every budget can be cut” misses a grand point. The question is not whether or not a budget “can” be cut, but whether or not a budget “should” be cut. And this one should not be touched any further.

And Jim, the supervisors do hear often from their constituents. In a small county like ours, they hear from their constituents all the time, practically every day. That is the nature of local government.

And the threat of being voted out for supporting this common sense budget is no better than the argument that they will be voted out for opposing the budget. I would like to think that these supervisors have more courage and integrity than to make a decision based on bullying.

Our school system is the county’s largest and most important employer. Such an enterprise obviously has a “domino” effect on our local economy. After shorting our school system during the difficult economic times of the recent recession, I think it is past time that we made this prudent investment into our school system. This should have nothing to do with how Rappahannock compares with other school districts. The standard should be one that we set for ourselves. Our administrators, our teachers, our school staffs and above all our students deserve the very best we can provide. This budget is a modest step in that direction.


  1. I basically agree with Monica Worth’s comments.
    I do not know the ins and outs of the football
    field part. I was also educated in public schools.
    I think that I received an excellent education.
    I think that this is an area where investment is
    money very well spent. No, I do not want to have
    irresponsible spending in school budgets. Without
    being directly involved in the Rapp. Co. schools,
    I have never (14 years) gotten the impression that
    money is being spent on them irresponsibly.
    Jim Warwick

  2. Cris Hernandez is the one making a mistaken assumption here. I don’t know anyone who assumes that “throwing more money at something automatically makes it better.” That is just a mindless political swipe that insults the intelligence of those opposed to you on this issue. This budget was practical, prudent, and well reasoned.

    Hernandez (he? she?) loses me with an ad hominem attack on Barack Obama, who, like him or not, was not in office when the market crashed and plunged the nation and much of the planet into a major economic recession. In fact, the recession is over in the United States, employment is up, the economic indicators are positive, and the Dow Jones recently topped 15,000. The glass is half full, Hernandez. Things are getting better, whether you like Obama or not….
    And no one is talking about a “10% property tax”….
    (I learned arithmetic in the Virginia Public Schools and even I know the difference between a 10% increase in a tax and a 10% tax.)
    And contrary to your canard, tax hikes are often “sunsetted”.
    Enough of this poormouthing. It seems to me that some of these tax protesters and anti-school zealots have enough money to burn a dead mule, to use an old Southern expression.
    And then there is the whining about having to support the schools because the taxpayer doesn’t have children in school. Well, I spend a lot of tax money on the military and I don’t have a kid in the service.
    It’s called the “commonweal.” Great word

  3. It is a mistake to politicize the education of the generation that will be struggling to address some of the toughest challenges in human history.

    Five years ago, the Board of Supervisors voted to back $350,000 in financing for half a million dollars worth of stadium lights. At the time, I was warned that I’d appear “anti-family” (and was called “white wine elitist”) for questioning the investment. Two weeks ago, I got a phone message from a woman I don’t know asking me to come to a public meeting and oppose a 10% property tax increase – no mention of the fact that it involved the school budget and involved a lesser investment that would serve students across the board.

    This “white wine elitist” got her entire formal education in the public school system. My father, too, was a high school, but not college, graduate. My mother graduated high school – when she was 55. Public schools provided the foundation for a good life for every member of my family. Our debt to public education is one I’ll gladly repay for what amounts to less than a tank of gas each month.

    Too much of this budget debate was about adults holding political positions on taxation. It needs to be about children and education. I back the real RCPS team: students and teachers and the workers who support them.

  4. It is a mistake to assume that throwing more money at something automatically makes it better. Many are already trying to do more with less in these hard economic times under Obama, the price of gas alone is capable of crippling family budgets, a 10% property tax under these conditions is going to hurt these same budgets. Tax hikes are rarely reversed. Before approving such a huge increase we need 1) more effort to be put into exploring other revenue streams or lack thereof, 2) more serious scrutiny of budget items to separate the needs from the wants, and 3) greater accountability to ensure money is spent strictly according to the budget. Until we have these three assurances, it is difficult to support such a large tax increase in a single year. It’s hard enough to make a buck these days without the government taking more and more of people’s money, and when taxes sop up everyone’s spending money, there’s less to put back into the economy.

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