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Why is it always someone else's fault?

Jack Balshaw 1/29/2003


I've been reading articles and editorials regarding the estimated state deficit and the mess state government has got us into. Because the deficit is the state's, we're quick to assume it must be their fault. One, it isn't and two, if it is, the state government is us. Remember the old Pogo carton, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

When the state was flush, I can't remember anyone demanding that some of the money be put away for a rainy day. I can't remember anyone arguing against reducing the vehicle registration fee. I can't remember anyone not wanting the increased state services. Think Pogo.

Prop 13 happened a long time ago, 1978, and most of us have forgotten why it happened, and what the results were supposed to be. The why was because as property (mostly housing) values were rising year after year local officials were continuing to tax at a near constant rate thereby pulling in more and more money each year. Many people felt elected officials were feeling too flush and spending at an unnecessary rate. So the people took the ability to raise taxes away from them.

BUT, there was the understanding and assumption that because of the new, lower tax rate, citizens would be more willing to agree to local bond issues or parcel taxes to fund desirable local community improvements. Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way. Once we got the money in our pockets, we didn't want to give any of it back to the city for local betterments. And that's the story of why our streets have deteriorated and there are special fees for many city services.

I don't say there's any more reason now than then to trust our elected officials to wisely spend any extra money they might get their hands on. But, if we want certain things such as good streets, well maintained athletic fields, bike lanes, a 12-month a year swimming pool, etc., we're going to have to accept putting up our money to fund it.

The trick is to word any bond or parcel tax request in such a way as to preclude spending the money for anything but the agreed improvement. That's not easy to do if the determination of appropriate use is left to those spending the money. But it can be done.

The debacle at Washington and McDowell is a good example of excessive expenditures for questionable improvements just because the council had money to play with. Future extravances like this must be avoided. And they can be.

There are about 20,000 dwelling units in Petaluma and maybe 4000 commercial parcels. If each one paid just one penny a day in tax that would generate almost $90,000. Eleven cents a day would raise a million dollars. I realize people get all riled up about any "tax" increase, but let's keep eleven cents a day per million dollars in perspective, a cup of coffee cost over a buck nowadays.

Think of what could be accomplished if that money were limited to construction expenses only. No planning studies, no city department overhead, no consultant design and no project management paid for with these funds. These items use up 40 to 55 percent of every dollar spent on a project. Sometimes I don't understand what our professional staff is doing for their pay.

We can't solve the state's budget problems, but we can take steps to insure that Petaluma can keep providing the quality of service we expect.

101 we can blame on the state, but if our streets, athletic fields, etc. don't get improved, it won't be the state's fault, it will be ours.


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