Editorial : Try again
Newspaper editors shouldn't try to predict the future. We have a hard enough time discovering what led us all to this present unwholesome state of affairs. As a class, editors ought to embrace humility and acknowledge that, outnumbered as we are by the human actors in our public and community life, merely reporting on the antics of these neighbors and leaders is often beyond us.
Plus, although some dear readers believe in the power of editorials, most of these believers have forgotten the frequency with which even they have carefully studied the writer's calls to action and, with a cheery heedlessness, done other than was proposed. Or, taken no action at all. Maybe we were all better off as a result.
The editorial writer's ability to see trends in community behavior, to know the public mind, to unmask the misguided public officials or exalt the diligent ones, may be regarded as uncanny by the most generous among you, but really, it is all just luck. Luck, and the happy fact that sitting to one side closely observing the activities of one's neighbors is the newspaper's daily job.
Still, editorialists persist. Helplessly, they will form and deliver opinions long after the merry, heedless forces of evolution have excised the newspaper reading gene from humankind.
So that even today, as 2009 ends and innocent 2010 begins, you are welcome to these few choice and familiar views on topics of general and vital concern:
The number one concern right now is money. There is a huge demand for it. Affordable housing needs money. Social services do too. Health services, education services, municipal services, conservation efforts. Indeed, every aspect of the Vineyard community is heavily challenged and inadequately funded. There is a determined constituency for each of these important, and in some cases vital, benefits.
As the demand for resources has increased, the availability of both public and private dollars has diminished. And, although the solution depends heavily on us, in the end it will not be entirely locally grown. What Vineyard institutions, including town governments, social and health service organizations, affordable housing volunteers, voters and taxpayers must do is find strategies that are broad-based, flexible, and that define the responsibilities of residents and taxpayers.
Consider health services. Most such benefits are funded by a combination of third party insurance payments and fundraising dollars. Despite the crucial nature of these services, public contributions of tax dollars to fund them are shamefully sparse. Increased public funding must be part of a successful strategy for organizations such as Martha's Vineyard Community Services and Vineyard Nursing Association, and so many others we cannot do without.
Or, consider affordable housing. For some reason, public funding, mostly in the form of Community Preservation Act (CPA) money, is more substantial for housing than for health care. Perhaps it's because housing has been the emergent cause of the decade and because the CPA money combines modest exactions from Island taxpayers, supplemented by tax dollars from across the state, even from communities much poorer than our own. For us, it's been a very good deal. But, in support of housing, there needs to be a bigger and more dependable public commitment. And, we don't mean dollars alone. The modest accomplishments of affordable housing volunteers in the past 10 years have been fantastically expensive on a per unit basis. For public funding, that must change if the need identified in 2000 is ever going to be met. Housing subsidized to the tune of $150,000 to $200,000 per unit will never accumulate in sufficient quantity to meet the Island need, unless economic and population growth effectively quash it.
When one reviews the list of needs and compares that list to the list of resources, the inescapable conclusion here is that growth of the Vineyard economy - not merely its wealth in real estate terms - is key to funding each of these needs, whether that funding is with public or private dollars. Business growth, job growth, payroll growth, and the steady growth of family wealth are fundamentally important to our ability to pay for the services we need - health services, housing services, educational services, conservation, and on and on. And robust economic growth is and has been for decades deprecated and neglected, hobbling our community's future.
All of this is familiar, of course. We've never gotten everything done that we ought to have. For today and tomorrow, perhaps we should simply acknowledge that it has been a year of some limited accomplishment and some significant dislocation. We might admit that we are scarred and uncertain. But, we take comfort that there is always smiling promise and opportunity ahead. We believe that there is a very great likelihood 2010 will be better than 2009 and that we can make it so, especially in your neighborly, encouraging, indulgent, and enthusiastic company.
Happy New Year to all.