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Tax Day — Yay!

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Translation: The federal government has a chronic spending problem, and massive cuts to bedrock programs are America’s only way out.

“Despite $14.2 billion in profit in 2010, General Electric pays zero in taxes.” Translation: The federal government has a chronic revenue problem, and getting everyone to pay their fair share is America’s only way out.

Two recent headlines; two completely different realities.

Ponder that GE story for a minute: Between 2007-09, GE also laid off 21,000 American workers and closed 20 factories. And we reward that? But don’t blame the corporations, say those leaders who thought a couple wars wouldn’t be too expensive. Spending is the problem, they’re sure; finally the dream is in reach and they might just get to drown the government in the bathtub after all.

So Congress is contemplating killing Medicare, states (who struggle to collect online sales taxes, among other problems) are running up the cost of higher education and local communities can’t afford to fix their streets, keep their museums open or enforce their laws. It’s becoming every man for himself.

Call me a hopeless nostalgic, but wasn’t there a time when we were all in this together — when we did big things as a team? Like irrigate the deserts of Eastern Washington? Or build the interstate highway system?

This debate isn’t over. In the coming months, as America tries to get its act together, there will be lots of talk about what government should and shouldn’t be in the business of doing. (Even though government is distinctly not a business.) While most would agree that government wastes a ton of money, and that our debt and deficit are wicked scary, let’s agree on another thing: This only works if we work together for the common good.

GE recently announced plans for the nation’s biggest solar array to be built here — great news. But even that doesn’t erase the feeling that too many corporations seem to have dropped out of our experiment in democracy. It’s sad, as in a bygone era the great American corporation helped build our way of life and changed the world. But today, what’s often good for them — fewer employees, higher prices — are bad for the rest of us. But then, there’s no “us” in the word “profit.” The calculus has become mercenary.

But if that’s how it’s going to be, the American public might need to get a little more mercenary, too — and that means no freeloaders (not even struggling little firms like GE). We can continue to be a great country, but it isn’t free.

Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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