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Candidates face mine field of issues

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The inside story on this year's elections reveals some potentially devastating issues for candidates across the nation. Here's a sample:

The Economy: Fear over corporate misdeeds and potential terrorism have led to a stranglehold on the investment of capital in American businesses. Most voters might not realize that as investment in companies declines, so too does the amount of working capital those businesses have to hire workers and purchase goods and services.

For Republicans, this could spell disaster if the meltdown on Wall Street continues without an emergency effort to counter it by President Bush and Republican leaders.

Temporary rallies on Wall Street notwithstanding, they should move immediately to create legislation that would encourage investors to jump back into the stock market. For Democrats, the economy could spell an elections disaster if Bush and the GOP properly explain the importance of attracting investors back to Wall Street and Democrats resist such efforts based on their typical knee-jerk aversion to capital gains relief.

State and civic government stability: Sept. 11 left most states tumbling toward financial dire straits. Tax revenues for many states and localities have been plummeting, resulting in curtailed services. This hidden financial time bomb could erupt if even one municipality or other government entity defaults on its bond obligations. With municipal bonds long having been perceived as a financial "safer haven" in this rough economy, a crisis in the public finance market could trigger even greater economic panic.

Deficit spending and bailouts: As a result of the terrorist attacks, the federal government has been forced to provide extended unemployment benefits, financial support for airlines, funding for a war and payment for federalization of airport security, all in addition to the usual spending programs. Add to this a failing Amtrak public rail system, the U.S. Postal Service that lost $1.7 billion last year and wildfires that are devastating national forests, and it's not hard to see that the cost of government could conceivably spiral out of control. Look for hidden taxes and increased revenue-grabbing aggressiveness on the part of individual states and the federal collection agencies to be potential fodder for political debate this fall.

Indifference to the public: From Florida to Alaska, voters appear to be fed up with the poor service they've been receiving from suppliers of cable television and other telecommunications services, as well as from many other services they rely on every day. The public sees that its own public properties have been used by private corporations to establish cable and fiber optics lines, only to have these companies turn around and raise prices or provide poor service.

Other issues: A quick road trip through any of America's big-growth states forces highway drivers to come face to face with what looks like an invasion of orange-and-white road-construction barrels. Sunbelt states as far south as Florida and stretching all the way to California are living through this visible symptom of severe population growing pains. Roads can't be expanded fast enough, and trees and other greenery seem to be ever more rapidly replaced with groves of apartment buildings and subdivisions. Water and other critical resources are in short supply and will become the center point of increasing political concern.

Meanwhile, as growth goes unabated, crime -- for the first time in over a decade -- is increasing across the nation. With so many law enforcement resources having shifted to the fight against possible terrorist attacks, state and local police forces are finding it harder than ever to meet their more traditional obligations. And if the economy continues to stagnate, we might very well see this trend become more serious, and not just for our cities, but for suburban America as well.

Collectively, these issues may well support a theory put forth in this column months ago. The tremendous uncertainty that now appears to haunt the public may well lead to a repeat of the 1992 electoral phenomenon in which voters basically turned on incumbents in favor of fresh new faces, regardless of party affiliation.

On the other hand, the fear of the unknown -- such as more unspeakable acts of senseless violence -- hangs heavily over this year's elections. Voters may decide that sticking with the experienced leaders now in office is more important than seeking change for the sake of change.

Matt Towery writes a syndicated column based out of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. He can be reached at www.InsiderAdvantage.com. To find out more about Matt Towery, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.



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