While driving on the freeway last week I spotted a truck with the following inscription scrawled on the back window: “You will understand freedom when you know more about the Constitution than you do about sports.”
I assume the truck’s owner is a so-called conservative constitutionalist, one who believes the U.S. Constitution is a black and white document influenced by God and not to be left to the whims of politically appointed judges.
And I would agree with part of the man’s message. Undoubtedly, more people can tell you the name of the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz than can explain the dictates of the Bill of Rights.
But where he and I would depart is his idea that the Constitution is a complete document containing every role the government should (or should not) play. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, acknowledged that “In questions of power ... let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” But 13 years later, Jefferson also scoffed at those who hold the Constitution “with sanctimonious reverence, and deem it like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched.”
I thought about this recently when a “strict constitutionalist” told me that RAP taxes (taxes for recreation, arts, and parks) are not the proper role of government. “It doesn’t say anything in the Constitution allowing government to rob people to pay for someone else’s hobbies,” he said.
But here is the problem: the man talking to me had a tee time later in the day at a public golf course.
More Utah communities are seeking voter approval for RAP taxes. There is also a debate in urban areas (Salt Lake City, for instance) about the viability of public golf courses. Many citizens say that golfers should pay the full cost of their sport, just as there are many who balk at paying taxes for art exhibits and theater enjoyed by “elitists.”
Few of these people, however, would agree that public parks should charge an entrance fee or that children should pay money to view an outdoor sculpture. Yet public golf courses, museums, amphitheaters, playgrounds and picnic areas are all part of a community’s quality of life. Golf makes people stretch their muscles and art exhibits and musical theater allows people to stretch their imaginations.
All need government subsidies. Golf fees will never cover the cost of upkeep and watering of a public course ... Don’t expect private companies to pay the cost of establishing and maintaining walkable trail systems ...Youth recreation fees do not come close to covering the cost of fields needed for soccer and baseball.
Of course, the Constitution says nothing about the government’s role in recreation. Neither does it mention levying taxes for highways and clean water.
As RAP taxes come up for a vote, citizens will have to decide whether an additional 10-cent sales tax on two steak dinners will increase the recreational and artistic quality of life in their hometown. The decision should reflect the enjoyment of life, and not a direct permission laid out in the U.S. Constitution.