By John Burbank
Now that the election is over, it is a good time to reflect. We elected these public servants. What do we expect our governments to do, from local fire districts and water districts to libraries to school boards, city councils, public utility districts, and county governments?
These local governments are the street-level face of democracy in our country. The elected leaders and the workers of these governments are the public servants of all of us. What do they do? Well, it helps to think about your day, from when you wake up to when you go to sleep at night to when you wake up again. If you are like me, you wake up and switch on the coffee pot before you take a shower. And, bingo, the light goes on, the coffee drips out, you have a sip and life seems pretty good.
It is not magic that makes that happen. The Snohomish County Public Utility District provides the power for your coffee maker, as well as for 726,000 other households and businesses. Their electricity rates are 10 percent less than privately-held Puget Sound Energy and 20 percent less than Portland General Electric. Plus, it was the Snohomish PUD that exposed Enron’s bilking of consumers, a product of utility deregulation that hurt all of us. Snohomish PUD serves Boeing Commercial Airplane manufacturing and the Everett Naval Base. It has weatherized 60,000 homes. Its ongoing efforts for conservation have saved enough energy to serve 75,000 homes. It is at the forefront of planning for the future, with new investments in geothermal energy, wave energy, solar, and small hydro energy. It is your government, and it works for you.
How about that water for the coffee? You don’t even question if it is safe to drink. It is, because the city of Everett Public Works Department makes sure it is. Everett also takes away and treats the wastewater coming from your shower.
OK, so you are up, showered, you’ve had some coffee, eaten some breakfast. Now the kids go off to school. That is part of our government as well. We all appreciate our local schools. And we pay for them, through property taxes, as part of our government.
You head off to work. If you are driving or bicycling, you can rest assured that your travel will be pretty safe, with police and traffic lights directing the flow of vehicles. And you know that if there is an accident, the police and firefighters and emergency 911 vehicles will be along right away, untangling the mess, treating the injured, saving lives, and putting out fires. That’s our government again.
The power and water and lights and heat you depend on at home are also all on at work, thanks to your local governments. You might wonder what you are going to do about lunch, so you go to a nearby restaurant. Do you worry that the food will be contaminated? No, because the Snohomish County Public Health Department inspects and permits all the restaurants in the county. You might decide heading back from lunch that you should get a flu shot. If you are in downtown Everett, you can just drop by the Public Health Department and get one.
Going home, you decide to pick up some books and audio tapes from the library. That, too, is your government working for you. It doesn’t cost you a penny (if you get your books back on time). It is paid for with your taxes, working for you.
When you go to sleep, government doesn’t stop. Police are patrolling the streets, firefighters are awake and ready to respond to any emergencies. They don’t demand a credit card before they go into action. They are public servants. Their wages are paid with your taxes.
So on this day after election day, let’s count our blessings for governments that work for us. Let’s hope that our newly elected political leaders understand that democratic government is best when it serves the people, you and me, with regard for the best interests of all of us.
John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org