Even After Murders, Newtown Still Prefers Low Taxes To More Security

The other day I was in the car listening to NPR and heard seemingly mystified reporters tell me about the vote over the Newtown budget and the Newtown education budget (which are proposed separately). As soon as I got home I searched for the story.

“Parents’ widespread desire for better security in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shootings that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the overriding issue throughout the process leading up to the vote. But none of that prevented voters from rejecting the proposal, kicking the education budget to the curb by a 482-vote margin, 1,994 in favor versus 2,476 opposed.  Voters rejected the town budget by a 66-vote margin, 2,207 in favor versus 2,273 opposed. Both budgets now go back to the Legislative Council for revisions. In the advisory questions about whether each budget was too low, voters in both cases overwhelmingly said the budgets were not too low. The vote on the town budget was 299 to 3,926. The vote on the education budget was 605 to 3,650.”

This is just common sense.

First, what might happen is not as important as what will happen. Higher taxes mean less money for residents or a financial crisis in the future. The voters compared that to the odds that the schools would have another shooter. Consumers make that kind of decision all the time. I remember a salesman offering my wife and I a superior fire alarm system complete with testimonials from people whose lives had been saved. We didn’t buy it because we simply didn’t have the money. So far, both we and our children have not burned up in a fire.

Secondly, if there was a shooter, increased law enforcement might not help. What if the shooter eliminates the guard right away with his first shot? Or what if the next shooter is someone who manages to take out a guard and get his weapon. All sorts of futures are possible. It is not self-evident that increasing security will fix them.

Third, freak anomalies in the past do not reveal the future to us. Adam Lanza cause many deaths. What if the next school disaster in Newtown involves a plane that crashes into a building by accident? No matter how much someone has suffered in going through such an ordeal, that event doesn’t mean that future events of the same kind are more likely.

Fourth, being poor is usually less safe than not being as poor. Maybe the Newtown homeowners have invested in a firearm and now realize they can’t afford the budget.

It is interesting how this vote was a surprise based on previous feedback. It sounds to me like the city government got some idea of what people wanted. But until you put a price tag on a service, you can’t be sure how much people want it. Yes, they would all take increased security for free, but once they realize what it costs, they have to then think about what they are giving up in return for the service.

The residents of Newtown were just being smart.