A new semester will soon begin at Canisius College. On Day 1 I will walk into my American Political Process class and tell a group of eager freshmen about public policy. I will offer a simple definition telling them that it is a course of action to attain a goal. I will then caution them not to confuse policy with goals, because a single goal can have multiple policies associated with it. I will assert that most of the time we all agree on a goal. It is the particular course of action to attain the goal upon which we differ.
Then I’ll employ a sports analogy. After a disappointing season, there is widespread disagreement among Buffalo Bills fans. Although everyone agrees on the goal of finally winning a Super Bowl, fans of the team cannot agree on how to do it. Some want to keep the nucleus of the current team, including the quarterback, and tweak the defense. Others view this as foolish and prefer trading for another quarterback or drafting one. Some people just want to blow the whole thing up and start from scratch. Remember that all of these fans want the Bills to succeed. They just disagree on how to do it. Some of us can recall 20 years ago when there were fistfights in bars over whether the Bills would be better off starting Doug Flutie or Rob Johnson at quarterback. Again, they agreed on the goal, but they disagreed on the policy.
The same thing happens in government all the time. We all share the goal of great services and low taxes. Often, though, we cannot agree on the specific policies we should pursue to attain our shared goals. As we move into 2017, I foresee a number of issues confronting us where this may be the case. Some of these issues are ones we have encountered before. Such is the case with our response to the opioid epidemic which swept the nation last year and left way too many local families struggling with the effects of a loved one’s addiction. Last year after much deliberation, we opted to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an opioid addiction hotline. Some people feel that this is sound policy, the best use of taxpayer dollars to combat this scourge. Others feel the money can be more effectively spent on other programs to address the situation. So we have disagreement on how to best spend the money even though all agree we cannot stand by and watch more of our neighbors perish.
This is not the only example of agreement on goals and disagreement on policies in county government. Other instances involve the futures of Erie Community College and Erie County Medical Center. Most agree that both are important community assets. Not everyone concurs, however, on how to realize their full potential for the benefit of all. So 2017 will be a year of spirited debate in the Erie County Legislature. We must be careful, though, to always remember the goals we share in common as we passionately pursue our preferred policies.
If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.