In Part I, we argued that anti-government and anti-tax hysteria promoted by the likes of Grover Norquist have resulted in failures to provide the very services governments were formed to deliver, especially public safety. Ultimately, the Norquist arguments have resulted in the kind of madness that has shut down the federal government and threatens democracy altogether.
Here, we address much more serious arguments against Measure X. While these arguments are strong and worthy of examination, they are not as strong as the need for restored public safety. Here’s the first of several arguments against Measure X. Rebuttals follow.
Can We Trust the Government?
Maybe the strongest argument against increasing taxes of any kind is the one that claims government will waste any money it’s given. In the case of Measure X, the Mayor and City Council have promised most of the money will go to public safety, with part of the balance going long-needed to road maintenance. Critics say there are no guarantees how the money will be spent, and they’re right.
Because a tax targeted for a specific use would require a two-thirds majority, the Mayor and City Council opted for a general tax accompanied by a promise to spend the money for public safety, road maintenance and some other items. Can we trust them?
There are several reasons to believe the Mayor and Council. One, all members of the City Council supported putting the tax on the ballot. That means that despite deep ideological differences, all recognized the need to restore public safety. All will be very conscious of the need to deliver on their promises. If they don’t deliver, they will be voted out.
Two, this City Council and its expenditures will be the most scrutinized in Modesto history. The days of stealth government like that of Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour are over. Even if the Modesto Bee were to continue its practice of protecting favored friends, there are now too many other media outlets for the Bee to maintain a monopoly on the news. Citizens who voted to improve public safety will insist on improved public safety. There is no longer anywhere to hide for local government officials.
When the Bee tried to tilt the Modesto Irrigation District water sale in favor of Allen Short and Tom Van Groningen, it suffered a resounding defeat in part because those interested in the issue were able to access other news sources. Should the Council try to divert tax revenue to uses other than those promised, the hue and cry will be deafening, just as it was during the water sale imbroglio. There is also a citizens’ oversight committee to ensure the money is spent as promised.
Public Safety is too Expensive
The cost of public safety is determined by the marketplace. It’s true that public employee pensions have become a fiscal nightmare everywhere in California, but the remedy is not going to be in reducing numbers of police and firefighters to the point of endangering people and property.
Already cities everywhere are renegotiating public employee contracts and offering new hires pay and benefits that are sustainable. The cost of public safety is being adjusted to current realities. The fix will be phased in over time.
Meanwhile, the need to protect people and property remains paramount. It is government’s first priority.
The Sales Tax is Regressive
Ever since the Jarvis-Gann led tax revolution, taxes have become ever more regressive. Recently, Warren Buffett made the issue clear when he revealed his tax rate is far less than his secretary’s. Regressive tax rates are the result of usurpation of federal and state government by corporations and the ultra-rich. The problem won’t be solved until the American people unite to restore equity to tax policy at state and federal levels.
When Modesto City Councilman Dave Geer cast his supporting vote for the one cent sales tax, he said it was because his constituents on Modesto’s west side need better public safety. While it’s true that Measure X features a regressive tax, it also provides services desperately needed by the poor and middle class, who have been most severely affected by our rising crime rates.
Corporate America and the ultra-wealthy have been amazingly effective in their campaign against fair tax rates, and it will be a while before counter-arguments prevail. Meanwhile, Modesto citizens are being robbed and endangered on a daily basis.
Modesto Would be Better Off Bankrupt
Some say Modesto needs a strong dose of “tough love.” They say that going bankrupt would force the city to focus on essentials. Unfortunately, the state of our city says otherwise.
Modesto residents drive on streets rapidly turning to rubble. They look at a city marred by graffiti, trash, a declining urban forest, and untended parks. Every day their risk of burglary, car theft, and personal injury is far above statistical averages for the state and nation.
Those who’ve watched city government closely over the last decade realize that during the Sabatino and Ridenour administrations, government was first trimmed, then cut, and then eviscerated. It’s most essential service, public safety, is nearly dysfunctional. There simply aren’t enough police officers to provide public safety.
Modesto and Stanislaus County were especially hard hit by Proposition 13, when most of our property taxes got diverted to the state. Since then, a pattern of rampant growth and insufficient developers’ fees have strained public services to the breaking point. Starving government has proven to be a sustained assault on the poor and middle class. Restoring public safety is a first step toward better quality of life.
In the Final Analysis
Cities, like families, are not perfect. They prevail over hard times because of unshakeable devotion to each member of the whole. Modesto is faced with a crisis that some would have destroy us.
When the ship of state is sinking, it’s not time to complain that the captain and crew can’t be counted on to steer it right. When the ship is sinking, it’s not the time to complain about whether third class tickets are too expensive. When the ship is sinking, it’s time for everyone to work together to set it right. There are many things wrong with Measure X, but not as many as are wrong with a city that has lacked sufficient revenue for decades.
Yes on X is Yes on Modesto.