"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Theory brought to life

In Curry County, in Oregon’s far southwestern corner, political rhetoric could soon spring into actual life.

Curry is a long way from the Portland area, geographically and philosophically. Coincident with its influx of retirees from California, it is one of Oregon’s most anti-tax counties, and its property taxes are among the lowest in the state. For decades, the county budget has been pumped considerably by federal forest funds, the money alloted to counties in place of property taxes that the federal government doesn’t pay on its properties, which are large in Curry (as in much of Oregon, and the Northwest).

But those funds have been faltering, and are likely to vanish entirely before long. The county budget has gotten tighter and tighter.

In political theory, some theory at least, this should be a plus. You hear about lower taxes being better, ever-smaller government being the goal, the less the better – there being no specific floor? In Curry County that rhetoric is more than just talk: It is playing out in real time.

From the Curry Coastal Pilot: “… officials are planning to continue operating at the current level through November, then shutting down at the end of November if additional funds are not found.” When one county commissioner asked for which county departments they should seek state help – that would be the state that is also in a tight budget squeeze – the answer was: “All of them. “Who are we kidding? We don’t have enough money to run any of them.”

That could mean shutdown of the sheriff’s office and jail, no taking of county records – no records of property transactions, among many other things.

Unless the county residents reverse traditional course and raise their taxes. (A number of options, even local sales tax, are on the table.)

But hey, the experiment might be interesting, although the people of Curry County would have to pay a steep price to learn some hard lessons about rhetoric and reality.

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