Maybe it is because we have always lived a long way from family, but my wife and I hardly think twice about getting in our car and driving for eight or nine hours to visit family or friends. We have also driven back and forth across our country three times. The first time was more than 40 years ago when we did it in my old Ford van. The most recent was 10 years ago when we drove from New York to California and back to visit our son and his family who lived in Los Angeles. When we have the time we like to take two lane roads including those with signs “No gas for the next 50 miles,” but at some point, on all our trips, we find ourselves on the highway. On the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system which crisscrosses our country making it easy to get from here to there. From New York to California. From Maine to Texas. From Portland to St. Petersburg. Like with so many things like this, we just get on at the entrance ramp and go, and rarely think of all that went into making the interstate highway system a reality.
I found myself thinking about this because our property tax bill came in the mail last week and over lunch with a couple of people with whom I sometimes work taxes became the topic of our lunchtime conversation. Too easily the comments echoed the larger talking points we often hear around taxes. Too much. Too many. Need to cut. As I listened I wondered how the interstate highway system ever got built and thinking if we did not already have it doubting we would be able to muster the corporate will and funding to do it today.
Believing the words we use matter and make a difference and help to shape perception which can then become reality, I think we need to be clear about the difference between the words can’t and won’t.
Is this true?
We can’t afford to fix our crumbling infrastructure?
We can’t afford quality education for all of the students in our country?
We can’t afford a health care system which covers everyone?
We can’t afford to both protect the environment and sustain economic growth?
Which is it?
We can’t or we won’t.
Yes, I know.
All of those things costs money.
Money which, for the most part, comes from you and me which means higher taxes. I get that. But the interstate highway system (and a hundred other similar projects) also cost money and somehow were completed and paid for.
How did they do it when we can’t?
In the end, we are the ones who help decide.
But let’s, at least, be honest with each other as we are.
Is it we can’t?
Or, we won’t?