Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What about the Sales Tax

If you have been following me on FaceBook lately, you probably noticed that I don't favor the approach presented at the last council meeting for removing the end date on the ½ cent 4B economic development sales tax. I have even called it pandering pork barrel politics as usual. It's time for me to explain this in more detail.

Some of you may remember I was part of the opposition to the 4B sales tax for a long time. I worked against its passage in 1999, and started the site that became ConchoInfo.org as part of the campaign against the 2004 proposal. In the end we ended up with a much better sales tax than what was originally proposed and they have done a better than expected job of sticking to what they promised the voters. Some parts have not worked out well, but it has been a useful tool in at least a few cases. We have made better use of this economic development tax than the average city does.

One of my main objections to this type of sales tax is how it frequently becomes a “ candy store”. Projects are proposed and handed out on the basis of political factors such as getting the proposal passed or returning favors instead of what is good for economic development and community needs. It frequently amounts to pandering to local special interests in exchange for support and donations. The current projects added to the proposed extension come across that way to me.

The core reason for an economic development sales tax is to aid in the creation and retention of long term good paying jobs. Without an adequate water supply, jobs will not be created or retained, and paying for all the development costs out of property taxes or the water bill is also going to hurt economic and community development. The 4B sales tax is a good way to pay for at least part of that. In those cases where primary jobs that pay above average wages are created or retained, the city has good guidelines and procedures in place for using these 4B funds. Still needs work, and needs more local focus on stage 2 companies, but overall the city has seen benefit from these economic development investments.

There are uses authorized under a 4B tax that do not create primary jobs or high paying jobs. These include sports facilities, open space development, affordable housing, and some related retail developments and infrastructure projects. These don't create good paying or primary jobs. I can see that some projects of this type should be done, but these projects need to be prioritized so that the community as a whole gets the benefits where needed. And truthfully, many of these projects could and should become self sustaining or at least help pay their way. We should look at creating a public facilities corporation to help make that possible.

Looking long term, there are legitimate uses for the 4B sales tax besides developing water resources and creating high paying primary jobs. The short term goal of picking a couple projects to help get it passed does a disservice to the voters and our community. I'm not saying these projects are unworthy of consideration. Instead these projects need to compete against other similar projects on a level playing field based on the long term benefits they bring to the community as a whole. We should fund projects that can show benefit to the city for the long term. We need to think further than just until the next election cycle.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Speak Out

It's final and official. The original language for the smoking ban is what will be on the ballot in November. They decided not to correct any of the faults of the original including addressing the petition to a non-existent City Commission.

The opposition is getting organized and has formed an SPAC called Speak Out San Angelo. Speak Out Amarillo defeated basically the same petition in Amarillo twice (2005 & 2008) and we need to continue the success here.

More information can be found on the Speak Out San Angelo blog and on their facebook group. They can really use your support.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Stray thoughts

It came to me while I am severely under-employed due to a broken right arm, San Angelo needs to create a new position:rainmaker!

Over the past week or so, all I've had to do is start a lawnmower and here comes the rain. Sometimes I only need to look at the mower hard! Obviouly by the Latin phrase "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", (really loose translation, That which happened first must have caused that which followed it regardless of cause and effect). I must be responsible for the rain, every dryland farmer in three counties owes me at least 1% of gross for my rainmaking, it's cheaper than cloudseeding and a dang sight more effective!

OK we're having fun, but it goes to a more real topic. I have seen things where spending public money actually created more wealth than was spent by the taxpayers. I have seen an albino deer in the wild, but I have seen one about as often as the other.

Folks, I've been at this a while. I wish I could tell you there was some spending/taxation mix we could live with and not put a 40% tax burden on our children and grandchildren. I also wish I could win the lottery. By any statistical projection, I will win the lottery first. Twice.

Smoke-Free, forget them until September unless of course they continue to violate Election Code. Meanwhile we have a highly compressed Capital Improvements Process where, as usual, people are asking for about 5 times as much money as the City will actually have in budget.

Let me make that concrete. Four out of five projects, nearly all of which are well-intentioned, will simply die, at least for this year. A hefty portion of the 20% of projects that survive might see the funding moved 3-5 years down the road, partly depending on the economy. Unlike the feds, City cannot create money from nothing. City has one, and really, grants included, only one source of money: OAP, I call it, Our Ass Pocket.

That is why Charter Review made it a lengthy process with several public hearings. We are getting a late start this year, but in defense of staff 1) the process is fairly new, everyone is still learning it; and 2) we had a tough job bringing a $2.3 million deficit real close to even without eliminating basic services. That was NOT an easy job!

BTW, had to take a break just now to talk to a Speak Out San Angelo contributor. Small sum, but it will all help. More importantly, he promised to speak to friends, neighbors and co-workers on the issue. As I have pointed out before, the absolute Gold Standard of politics is one-on-one conversation. Not some fellow with a strange accent on a phone bank, I mean people who know one another talking to one another. That you cannot buy, you cannot fake, it either happens or it doesn't. Therein lies the fate of our November 2 smoking election. Turn out, or lose, and that applies to either side.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Get involved

I have written on this before, but Independence Day brings it up again.

I spoke to the Tea Party group Saturday, following a lady who suggested going to Council or County Commissioners or SAISD meetings. As a "been there done that" person, I reminded the audience, ALL these bodies are open meetings. Anyone can address them in favor of or in opposition to whatever is on the agenda, in fact if your topic is not on agenda, there is a "Public Comment" opening where any citizen can suggest a new topic for the next meeting.

Texas may still have a "redneck" image, but it is perhaps the most open state in the Union. Things that twenty years ago I would have had to take a day off, physically walk from office to office, file Freedom of Information forms and wait for the beauracracy to find a reason to deny my request: I get that now at 3:00 AM in my bathrobe and slippers: literally.

You need to look at an ordinance or city Charter? Online, two clicks of a mouse. You want Texas Statutes, same thing. You want Federal Statutes, well it may take a while to download unless you have the bill number handy, but it's there. A Supreme Court decision you heard about, it's there. Maybe you don't trust the press as it reports the new Arizona immigration statute; it's there.

Recently, San Angelo even started posting what is called the "Agenda Packet", in short, all that stuff the Councilmembers have on their laptops, you can have it too, before the meeting. It's a lot of reading, tomorrow's is 360 pages+, last week was only 297 pages, BUT if you want it, it's there. Someone, I suspect Alicia Ramirez, went in to put that up today on a holiday, it was not there yesterday.

I mentioned to our Tea Party crowd, San Angelo has at least 20 Boards and Commissions advising Council and they are all open to the public. Some of them are so seldom used they might be slightly shocked to see an actual citizen, but they will also give you a hearing, probably feel complimented someone bothered to show up!

Last but not least, check any agenda lately for Council. There are ALWAYS open spots on advisory boards. Doesn't pay anything, some of them buy you lunch, but toward bottom of agenda we always have "appointment of soandso to board xyz" which in my memory is always unanimously approved.

Don't sit and bitch, get in there and make your case. You won't always win, God knows I haven't, but if you don't play you sure won't win.

Me, in a world full of wolves, I'd rather be a shepherd than a sheep.