No Fooling

If 2004 is an election year of more than usual consequence at the national level, there are local problems, too, that will shortly bear addressing in earnest. Education, consolidation, and the bottom-line one of how to pay for government at all.

Just now, Shelby County government is the test case. Budget deliberations by that body in the next several weeks will determine whether draconian cuts will need to be made in most, if not all, county agencies. Sheriff Mark Luttrell, whose public style is refreshingly open, recently embarked on a public-relations mission of sorts in which he made the case to various media outlets, including the Flyer, that the law enforcement arm of his department would be endangered if he were forced to enact cuts of the magnitude that have been suggested.

Mayor A C Wharton, whose trial balloon for a significant property tax increase (most of it merely to pay for debt service) was shot down in mid-air some weeks back, has responded to the county commission's reluctance by proposing a moratorium on new home construction. At first blush, this appears to be a negotiating tactic. But maybe not.

Maybe the mayor is merely enunciating what the sheriff and other department heads will soon, for better or for worse, have to reckon with. In the vernacular: You get what you pay for. With all due sympathy to county officials, developers, and the other community interests and citizens at large who depend on government's functioning as usual, we agree with Wharton: The time has come to put up or shut up.

Either new taxes or reduced services. It's that simple.

A Real Horse Race

It's been 26 years since Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in horse-racing history. Jimmy Carter wasn't halfway through his lone term in the White House. Wes Unseld's Washington Bullets beat Seattle to win the NBA title just three days before the race. And the Cincinnati Reds' George Foster was on his way to hitting a National League-leading 40 home runs. This was a long time ago, folks.

Media darling Smarty Jones enters the gates Sunday at the Belmont racetrack as the kind of underdog this country embraces like a long-lost teddy bear. He's small, unruly (he cracked his skull having a tantrum in the starting gate last July), carries an unheralded jockey, and is owned by a guy who needs an oxygen tank to get around (78-year-old emphysema-stricken Roy Chapman). And despite all the handicaps, Smarty Jones is kicking some equine tail. He won the Preakness by a record 11-and-a-half lengths.

With a victory, will Smarty Jones earn the same reverence we've attached to the likes of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Citation? Time and the relative number of future Triple Crown winners will answer that question. In the meantime, we cross our fingers.

Last Monday, President Bush said: "History is moving, and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy. We will persevere and defeat this enemy and hold this hard-won ground for the realm of liberty." As we try and digest those words, as we attempt to accentuate the "hope" part, a sporting proposition like a Triple Crown winner is most welcome.

Which is precisely where Smarty Jones and his Belmont jaunt come in. Even if only for two-and-a-half minutes, what a fine distraction this will be. n

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