Talking about Government & Taxes g Advocates College g Portland, Oregon – April 28, 2011 Patrick Bresette – firstname.lastname@example.org Public Works: the Dēmos Center for the Public Sector www.publicworkspartners.netDēmos: A Network for Ideas & Action www.demos.org
The Task Before Us We must help p Americans reconnect the dots between the e do s be ee e shared goals and desires they have for desires they have for their communities and the public tools and the public tools and resources necessary to achieve them. achieve them
But when we try to talk about government . . . g
Mission & VALUES • Common GoodPurpose • Quality of Life • Community Wellbeing • Public Purpose ROLE • Protector • Manager & Planner • Steward • Consensus-Builder
Systems &Structures • Concrete and vivid images • The public systems we have created • How they work • Why they are important
Citizen • InterdependenceThinking • Working together g g • Problem‐solving • Everyone has a role to play • “Our” Government Our Government • The Common Interest
Dominant StoriesJust Politics Bureaucracy Vending Machine g. . .can’t solve anything . . . not my responsibility
New StoriesMission & Purpose Systems & Structures Citizen‐Thinking. . . our tool for solutions & the common good . . .
Dominant Narrative Challenges 1. “our problems have been p caused by overspending . . .” 2. “it’s time to live within our means . . . means ” 3. we need to focus on creating 3 “we need to focus on creating jobs and getting government out of the way . . .” f h ”
Spending is the Problem • If overspending is the problem, than all spending – no matter what the purpose – h h should be questioned • If “government spending” is contributing to our economic woes, then reducing spending is a logical response l l
“Spending is the Problem” Pivot and reframeRhetoric: Washington is through bailing out irresponsible states, so now it s up to us to rein in the overspending that we could never afford it’s up to us to rein in the overspending that we could never afford anyway. Response: Our state is at a crossroads. The deepest recession in Response: Our state is at a crossroads The deepest recession in decades is lingering, impacting families AND state tax revenues. The choices we make today must be designed to spur our economic recovery and build the best possible future for the people and businesses of our state. Our schools, courts, social supports and healthy environment have always been essential elements of the healthy environment have always been essential elements of the quality of life that has attracted businesses and workers alike. These are the things we must protect. Building upon our past investments and paving the way forward will require wise and balanced decisions; new revenues need to be part of the discussion.
Living Within Our Means Living Within Our Means is shared common sense; a powerful folk model just as familiar to Democrats as Republicans. Overcoming this main obstacle – so that people don’t reflexively judge l d fl l d situations and proposals against this misguided yardstick – is one of communicators’ chief challenges. ‐Topos Partnership
Consequences of “Living within our Means” Living within our Means• Triggers “household budget” frame Triggers household budget frame• Government spending must be controlled • Cuts are the only logical response to the shortfall• So taxpayers can keep more of their money• Taxes would only make things worse
“Living within our means” Do Not Accept this Frame• Refocus on what is at stake not just Refocus on what is at stake – not just now, but for the future• Assert the essential role of our public structures in meeting our shared goals structures in meeting our shared goals and objectives• Reset the terms of the budget and tax conversation against this perspective conversation against this perspective
“Living within our means” Pivot and reframeRhetoric: Families across the state are being forced to do with Rhetoric: Families across the state are being forced to do with less; now it’s time for government to do the same and start living within its means.Response: Times like these call for government play an active role, in meeting emergency needs and in supporting a strong recovery. The central question that should drive our budget decisions is “how do we make sure that we are keeping the foundations of our economy sound and paving k i th f d ti f d d i the way to future prosperity.” Making sure we have the means to achieve this shared goal is the real challenge. means to achieve this shared goal is the real challenge.
“Living within our means” Pivot and reframeQuestion: Our state simply doesn t have any more money to Question: Our state simply doesn’t have any more money to spend on public services. Since tax increases are politically out of the question, where should they look for cuts?Response: At many pivotal moments in our state’s history we have chosen to build a brighter future for ourselves and our children. Our state has tremendous resources at its disposal – hard working people, ingenuity and financial resources that can all be brought to bear to build a more prosperous that can all be brought to bear to build a more prosperous future for our state. The state budget decisions we make reflect our commitment to making that future a reality.
Creating Jobs =Getting Government Out of the Way Our state is “Open for Business”* We will: We will: a. lower costs for businesses by lowering taxes and cutting red tape b. put money back in the hands of taxpayers who will spend it and p y p c. make the policy environment more “predictable”. Then the good businesspeople of Th th db i l f our state will expand and hire more workers ; and more businesses will want to relocate here. *a phrase used in the election night speeches of at least 3 new Govs ‐ WI, OK, PA)
“Its all about Jobs” Triggers Dominant Thinking Government : • smothers business resourcefulness f l • gets in the way of gets in the way of job creation • is always a burden • public jobs are not public jobs are not real jobs
Combating the “all about Jobs” Frame • Assert the connection between jobs and healthy public structures • Don’t get bogged down in factual Don t get bogged down in factual arguments • Be cautious about comparing the loss of public sector jobs to private sector of public sector jobs to private sector job worries
“It’s All about Jobs” Pivot and ReframeRhetoric: We need a laser focus on creating jobs to get Rhetoric: We need a laser focus on creating jobs to get Oregon’s economy moving again. We need to cut government red tape, provide tax incentives to businesses and get our spending under control.Response: A strong state economy rests on the health and stability of our public systems. Whether it is education, infrastructure or the many services that keep our communities strong, these are the things that fuel a good communities strong these are the things that fuel a good business climate. Deep budget cuts, like the ones being considered not only put more people out of work, they undermine the foundation of economic opportunity in our state. Smart business leaders understand this.
“Our economy isnt metaphorically like an ecosystem, it is a literally an ecosystem. And to argue that we would be better off by limiting government, because if we do it will promote business, is precisely like arguing that we will promote business is precisely like arguing that we willhave more animals if we limit plants. It is exactly like it. In every ecosystem that you will find on Earth, you will find that the more plants there are the more animals there are, and vice versa. They are inextricably intertwined. And in every economy on Earth where you find a robust, E th h fi d b tprosperous, growing economy, you will find an equally ,g gp y grobust, growing public economy because these things are in symbiosis, and you cant have one without the other." ‐ Nick Hanauer (http //www techflash com/seattle/2010/11/nick hanauer html Nick Hanauer (http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2010/11/nick‐hanauer.html
Lessons to Take Away• Be aware of the dominant narratives that will undermine the story we want to tell; pivot away. undermine the story we want to tell; pivot away• Always connect the role of public services and government to quality of life and a strong economy.• Connect revenue discussions to shared priorities and Connect revenue discussions to shared priorities and the public services we all benefit from now and down the road.• Keep the focus on building for the future – debates that are entirely about how to find $x billion from that are entirely about how to find $x billion from the current budget will not end well.
Tax Debates are Government Debates • Tax debates and their overheated rhetoric transform government from “we the people” into “them,” the h l h h “other” – the taker of our money. • Getting back to Government as “us” ‐ as our tool for getting things done ‐ is f essential to winning on taxes. g
Dominant images of i f Government have a direct influence on i flattitudes about Taxes
Consumerist thinking dominates d i t and is easily triggered
Taxes have becomedisconnected from their purposes.di d f h i
Reconnect Taxes to PurposesThe public structures that underpin our communities – such as schools, roads, clinics, police and fire protection, and health inspections – all depend on a system of budgets and taxes that supports them adequately now and into the future. Taxes are an essential part of the equation; how they are raised and the level of resources they provide will affect our quality of life now and for years to come.
Tap into Shared Values Highlight the Common Good Common Good Values and Objectives that are that are made possible by the taxes we all pay. ll
Tap into Shared Values pWe all benefit from the improved We all benefit from the improvedcommunity well‐being and economic opportunity made possible by a good opportunity made possible by a goodeducation system, public safety, and clean air and water – all of which are clean air and water – all of which aresupported by our tax dollars. Taxes represent our collective investment in represent our collective investment inthe common good.
An Eye to the Future People tend to “see” taxes only as something g being taken from them right now. Reset the context by Reset the context by focusing on the role taxes play in helping us l h l meet future goals and objectives.
An Eye to the FutureOn Tax Day, millions of Americans will do what generations before have done –invest in our countrys future. Just as our parents and grandparents paid taxes to , p ybuild the schools, transportation systems, ,health clinics and parks we benefit from today, our tax payments this year will today, our tax payments this year willhelp to create the quality of life we pass along to future generations.along to future generations
Targeting those not “Paying their Fair Share” Efforts to focus on Eff t t f those who should pay more – the Wealthy and Corporations – still need to make the case for “why.”
Why the Wealthy and Corporations should Pay More The public systems that our taxes support are the foundation of our nation’s economy. Everyone – individuals f d f ’ d d l and businesses alike – needs to shoulder an appropriate share of these costs. Our nation was built on the notion that those who have benefitted the most from our country’s public investments should also pay the most for their upkeep. For some time now this basic principle has th i k F ti thi b i i i l h been eroding away. Over recent decades the share of taxes paid by high income earners and large corporations has been reduced while middle class families have paid more and our public systems have declined. This great American tax shift is undermining the foundations our economy and tax shift is undermining the foundations our economy and our society.
Systems & Structures• Connect the dots between the public p systems and structures that underpin our quality of life, and the revenues our quality of life and the revenues from taxes that keep those systems functioning now and into the future now and into the future.• Take a pragmatic manager stance – taxes as tools
Civic Thinking g• From taxpaying consumers to “civic‐ From taxpaying consumers to civic minded” stewards of communities• Taxes as our shared exchange with the future• We all benefit when we support the public goods that create community goods that create community wellbeing and a healthy economy
The quality of life we all want in our q ycommunities is directly connected to the public structures we build and maintain. Our parks, schools, social services and infrastructure are what make our state a good place to live and work. Continuing cuts to public programs and services will undermine the public systems we rely on every day. It is time to focus on finding new every day It is time to focus on finding new revenue to keep our communities functioning well, now and into the future.functioning well now and into the future
Field Experiences:Fi ld E iLessons from other states
North Carolina North Carolina sees itself as a “good government” state. There is a certain pride in the progress the state has the progress the state has made over the years in transforming itself from a rural agricultural economy and society into a modern forward looking state. This forward‐looking state. This is a powerful state narrative that advocates have tapped into in important ways. i t i i t t
North Carolina Resulted in successful passage of a tax package in 2009 that generated $1.3 billion in new $annual revenues.
ColoradoThe COLORADO CIVIC The COLORADO CIVICENGAGEMENT ROUNDTABLE is an integrated network of 51 non‐partisan, 501(c)(3) organizations dedicated to achieving an inclusive, engaged, just, and equitable state for all Coloradans. Coloradans for Responsible Reform —Business–based Coalition that opposed the “Bad Three” and worked for Referendum C
Making the Case g • V l Values: A ti l t th Articulate the Public Good behind the policies and programs • System Thinking: Help reveal our essential Public Systems & Structures • Awaken the Citizen: What is our shared stake and responsibility?
Public Works:the Dēmos Center for the h D C f h Public Sectorwww.publicworkspartners.net