Ax Ax the Tax

A colleague poses an interesting question: Is a vote against Mobility 20/20 -- the county's multibillion dollar plan to alleviate gridlock -- a vote for anti-tax crusaders like Doug Guetzloe and Ax the Tax? And if so, can one vote against 20/20 and still respect oneself in the morning?

A thick, chewy quandary indeed.

First, there's the very real notion that Mobility 20/20 is misguided on many levels. Even a quick read of the plan reveals that it is almost all about widening roads. Topping the list your tax dollars would pay for is a wider I-4, a wider Colonial Drive, a wider Avalon Road, a wider Sand Lake Road, etc. Only when you get down almost to the fine print do you run into anything other than "wider and longer is better." There is some money in there for improving bike trails and sidewalks. And if you squint, you can almost see the faint outline of something that kinda sorta looks like light rail way, way, way off in the distance.

No matter what 20/20 supporters say, the idea that widening roads reduces congestion is absurd. Traffic, like desktop detritus, always expands to fill the available space. Take a leisurely drive around Los Angeles, home of the 12-lane freeway, if you don't believe it. The solution is to give people a viable alternative to cars, in this case, light rail.

So is a vote against 20/20 a vote for a more insightful plan? Yes. But the trouble is that it could also be construed as a vote for Guetzloe and his anti-tax monkeys who only know one word: No.

These are the same people (Republicans, for the most part) who work tirelessly to convince Americans that they are unfairly burdened by taxation. What's incredible is that people believe them, despite the fact that the average U.S. citizen pays less in taxes as a percentage of income than in almost any other industrialized nation; and despite the fact that the said percentage has hovered right at 26 percent for decades. You don't give half your money to the government, no matter what the anti-tax crowd says.

What's more incredible is the mental disconnect between the quality of services and taxation. When Orange County schools wanted a tax increase to upgrade old schools and build new ones, Ax the Tax actually tried to use the condition of the schools as a justification for not giving them any more money. (An argument so ridiculous even Orange County voters, who are notoriously unreceptive to tax hikes, saw through it.)

That vote wasn't about education for the anti-taxers, just as this one isn't about transportation. What's really at stake is what economist Paul Krugman refers to as "starving the beast." This is a worldview clouded by an overriding hatred of government, especially when government is in the business of collecting taxes and spending them on social services (public education), infrastructure (roads), or entitlements (Social Security). Everything is secondary to the Holy Grail of not burdening the rich with the needs of the not-so rich. That's the way it was before the New Deal, and that's the way it should be again.

The group's name says it all: Ax the Tax. Which tax are we to ax? Every goddamn one of them! They're all equally onerous.

And so I, for one, will hold my nose and vote yes on Mobility 20/20 Oct. 7. I'd rather see 16 lanes of traffic in both directions on I-4 than be in league with the Guetzloes of the world.

Sieg Heil!

Remember those heady days in January and February when the streets of Orlando were full young idealists speaking their minds, questioning authority and standing up to the man? Neither do I, but there was a weekend or two when the war protestors actually made a valiant attempt to puncture the city's apathy. And there was a weekend or two when conservative talk-radio host Shannon Burke goaded the protestors by running a bunch of Harley-ridin', flag wavin', bird-flippin' Amuricans by the corner of Orange and Colonial. Political tension in O-Town! It was the best of times.

Local filmmaker Steve Gross (Plan9 Films) captured the brief moment of unrest on his brief film "American Dream." Then he entered his work in the Independents' Film Festival in Tampa and won first prize for the best mini film by an independent producer.

Gross filmed at the corner of Orange and Colonial as the bikers swept by, and also at Burke's "Rally for America" at a local Harley-Davidson dealership. But it was probably his editing touches -- dubbing a speech by Adolph Hitler over footage of Burke at a flag-wrapped podium whipping the biker crowd into a frenzy, for example -- that caught the judges' eye.

Burke has seen the film, and he's ambivalent about it. On one hand, he's not amused. "If he makes penny one on that film, he will be hearing from my attorneys."

On the other hand, well, it is a good film, even if it does compare him to Der Führer. "It is pretty funny," he says. "I got to hand it to him, he's talented."

Judge for yourself. "American Dream" will be screened, along with other winners, Sept. 19 at the Tampa Theater.

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