In Praise of Public Service

April 15, 2009

In honor of Tax Day, this story from a 2003 issue of AFSCME’s Public Employee magazine seems fitting.

Tip O'Neill, the late and great Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, loved to tell this story.

A constituent of mine woke up one morning and turned on the radio to listen to the weather report, provided by the National Weather Service. He heard a snow plow go by, clearing his street. He made a cup of coffee with clean water (assured by the Clean Water Act). He also cooked up some eggs and bacon — food products that were certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture; he didn't worry for a moment that his family might be poisoned.

The man kissed his children goodbye as they waited for the bus to take them to the public elementary and high schools. His oldest daughter, who wanted to go to college, was applying for government financial-aid loans; so on his way to the subway, he dropped her application letters in the mailbox. He passed the senior housing where his mother resided — and where she received a monthly Social Security check, high-quality health care paid for by Medicare, and a secure, warm environment to live in. Half the cost of the subway ride he took to the airport was subsidized by state and federal transportation funds. He flew to Washington to see me on a plane whose safety was ensured by Federal Aviation Administration inspectors and a flight made safe by federally operated security checkpoints. On his way to the Capitol, he stopped for an hour to enjoy the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History (no admission fee).

Then the man went to his meeting with me. He burst into my office complaining that "I never get anything for my tax dollars!"

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