Hey, when I said tax the rich, I didn’t mean the rest of us
May 9, 2011
OPINION by ROGER FREBERG
When you look around the state to see if anyone, anywhere is doing anything to save our counties and cities; you really don’t see a captain at the helm trying to avoid those big icebergs. I do see a lot of quick retirements, golden parachutes and manning the lifeboats! I don’t feel very confident in our leadership, do you?
However, not making a decision is still making a decision! It is a choice and not always the bad one.
However, our cities, counties and our state are in big trouble and no one anywhere seems to want to change the course of this Titanic. If I were a betting man, I would wager that decades from now, historians will refer to this time as a period of collective paralysis in the political community–when confronted with a rapidly dynamic and changing environment our leaders were unprepared by either training or ideology to be up for the task.
I don’t have a problem with the concept of having ‘hope’ for an economic turnaround or recovery, but I do have a problem with not taking steps to soften what could be a rather hard fall if things don’t turn around.
I pick on the cities because they exist right before our eyes and offer the same sorry excuses for not addressing the pressing issues of the day as their bigger kin. They worry about their own electability. Let’s take a look at a few of the issues that press on cities:
1) Unfunded pension liabilities
It is no secret that the current and future solvency of the public sector rests on addressing this issue. Is it fair or right to ‘retire’ public employees, any public employees at a salary that is higher than anything they made while working for you and me?
2) Public sector salaries
Thanks to Governor Jerry Brown, everyone has the ability to see what many public sector folks make on retirement. It might surprise you to see how many actually pull down over $100,000 each year in retirement. As a side note, it took me a very long time just to skim through the last names starting in ‘A.’ I found it depressing.
There are a lot of jobs here that fail to meet the smell test. The City of Bell is definitely not “alone.”
3) Administrative bloat and huge salary and benefit packages
For example, why should anyone working in the city of San Luis Obispo (population 40,000) make more than the governor of this state? Is what they do really that important and are their skills so precise that no one outside of an elite cabal of public sector administrators could fill their shoes? Personally, I have found most administrators to have limited vision, and instead are rigid clerics of the motto “give me more money, then I can do my job.”
Public supported private cars, credit cards, cell phones, junkets and public funded conferences seem like easy things to cut to save scarce public resources.
The politically tougher call is to how do cities function with ‘less.’
4) Raise or lower taxes and fees
‘Revenue enhancement’ has been the euphemism used by cities for raising taxes and fees. Since raising taxes creates such a negative reaction in the public mind, other words have been introduced to ease the pain. It goes so far as to redefine how propositions and bonds are described. Only a heartless person would fail to support the “homeless, single mother, environmental protection, pollution control, and fairy shrimp bill,’ but when you read the fine print, you discover such bills raise revenue for the general fund.
I pay about $15 per month to the city on my cell phone. I can see the purpose of paying the city for a land line, as these require maintenance, but as far as I know, the city incurs no costs for my cell phone. It’s just because people don’t have land lines anymore, and the city “needs” the revenue. We’re just an ATM to them, nothing more, nothing less. Expect to see taxes like these go through the roof, just because the governments “can.”
Our current favorite is President’s plan to tax each mile you drive in your car—part of the “Transportation Opportunities Act.” So now paying more taxes (we already pay a lot of gas taxes for this same purpose) becomes an “opportunity.” The fact that your car would need a new device to record how much you drive and who knows what else is a bonus for our nosy leaders.
We have had some experience with this with a local school bond bill that promised a lot of good things for students. San Luis Obispo passed this some time ago and it comes up for renewal soon! Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t a million or so go just to renovate the School superintendant’s office and building?
5) Stop raising water and sewer rates
Recently, the city of San Luis Obispo has proposed raising water rates roughly 20 percent across the board and sewer rates roughly 13 percent. They trot out the usual reasons: 1) big capital improvement projects needed (when have they ever not said this?), 2) citizen conservation efforts have reduced consumption and use (darn them!) and 3) we just didn’t think this would happen!
The “conservation” excuse can’t have any connection with the large number of vacant homes and apartments in San Luis Obispo, now, can it?
We have never been given data to support the need for water/sewer increases or any evidence that the increased revenues are earmarked for improving the water/sewer system. We need to see where these revenues are being used and find other sources to fund these projects. My guess is that they just go to the general fund.
When you raise these sorts of taxes, well, some people just turn off the water, but we do not live in a third world nation–yet. Most of us believe that being able to flush a toilet or take a shower are basic parts of the American lifestyle. I find it darkly amusing that there is actually additional city tax on this ‘tax’ bill. The most dishonest thing about the city flier is that they show your bill actually not going up as much as it will, because they have built in an assumption that you will reduce your already frugal water use by another 10 percent!
“Sir guy, golden days are here!” – Prince John (Robin Hood—What would Errol think about our city leaders?)
By the way, San Luis Obispo city officials, I would have a lot more confidence in buying your product if I wasn’t confronted with water coolers in city offices. I even seem to remember seeing one in the water treatment plant. If you don’t drink the product, why should we think it’s safe? I guess you really don’t want to tell folks about not testing for heavy metals, or have you started looking into that, yet?
So, what can you do? Well, remember when they say they want to ‘tax the rich,’ they really are talking about all of us.
A Public Hearing on the proposed water and sewer rate increases will be held on: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 7 p.m. at the city of San Luis Obispo Council Chambers at 990 Palm Street.
Roger Freberg is a San Luis Obispo resident who is using his retirement to write a culinary-inspired blog, comment on important local events and occasionally enjoy getting sued for his journalistic excellence.