As the debate has gone on (and on) about the proposed tax initiatives that Utahns will vote on in a few weeks, I have occasionally heard one of the standard arguments we in Utah often get when it comes to a whole variety of issues.

Having taken some lumps over the years on the matter, I've learned to keep my lip zipped - most of the time.I'm feeling a bit masochistic, I guess, because I feel compelled to speak up once more on the subject of large families.

During a school board meeting recently, in which the tax issues were a topic of discussion, a patron propounded the theory that if Utahns would be reasonable about the size of their families and then accept the responsibility for educating their children, all would be well in "Zion." Our financial troubles would disappear and things would roll along in fine fashion.

I see things from a different perspective.

Do I have a bias? Absolutely. Over a lifetime, I have accumulated about a dozen children one way or another, what with natural births, adoptions, and acceptance of stepchildren into our little fold.

One of the adoptees is a handicapped child whose costs to society could have been considerable had she been left in her original circumstances.

No one dropped around to help with the expense of rearing these children. The government did not send food stamps, help with the fuel bills or send checks for aid to dependent children.

In one respect only did we not carry our own weight. Society, bless that anonymous institution, helped pay the costs of educating the Van Leer tribe.

In the instance of our handicapped child, those costs were higher than for a normal child - but not as high as the institutionalization that appeared inevitable in her case. The societal contribution has paid off. She is now employed and paying her own way.

I'm grateful for the education my children received. I see education of all children as a societal obligation - one that pays huge dividends.

Now that all but one of my children have passed through the system, I continue willingly and joyfully to pay taxes to contribute to the education of my grandchildren and other children.

I would pay more if necessary. I will continue to pay until death or retirement, whichever comes first. In fact, I'll continue paying after retirement. Taxes are more certain than death, almost.

And at this moment, a dozen Van Leers are employed - 11 of them in Utah - and paying taxes to support the education of a new generation of children.

Like the old saying says, what goes around comes around. At one time, they cost society. Now they are proportionally contributing to society. From my perch, that's fair.

Children are not a burden, as many states are finding. Population structures are tilting in those states toward an elderly group that consumes and does not return. Their labor markets are dwindling.

Today, Utah's children have created a tax burden that must be met at the same time the state's economy has suffered some reverses. The challenge is to do it willingly, to stint if necessary, to get our bulge of potential through the pipeline.

Hopefully, we can also create a healthy economy that will provide jobs for our youngsters at home.

If the challenge is met, Utah may well find itself the enviable possessor of a vital resource, a flourishing, well-educated working population at a time when other states find stagnation nibbling at their core.