Friday, Dec. 1, 2006 | In their ongoing exchange, both Pat Shea and Joe Flynn make substantial points about local taxes, but neither tells us what San Diegans currently pay in total for their local government. It’s important that we answer this basic question as objectively and as fully as possible, because the back-and-forth of “we pay too much, we don’t pay enough” doesn’t get us to the real issues, which are: What kinds of municipal services do we want, at what level should these services be provided, how much do we want to pay and how should we pay for them? Shea is correct that we need to look at all the ways San Diegans pay for their local government, but his subtext on taxes versus fees, and for that matter the “ruggedness” of our terrain, ignores the real questions posed above.
There have been numerous entreaties to the local news media to stop the endless back-and-forth and objectively report on what San Diegans in fact pay for their local government. Shamefully, the response has always been arrogant silence and many of us suspect that the reason for this silence is that the answers might not be so good to those with an agenda that frankly often seems hostile to the public sector, whether it is well managed or not.
The local news media’s opposition to reporting such facts reminds me of a quote from Bill Clinton that appeared in the Sept.18, 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine in which he says “But the thing that bothers me about having an ideology as opposed to a philosophy is that, if you have an ideology, then the outcome is dictated before the facts are in, before the arguments are heard. And that, I think, can cause problems.” Too much of our reporting and subsequent public dialogue in San Diego has revolved around ideology.
Let’s have some facts. Finally informed, the citizens will follow with their own philosophy, without need to follow patronizing editorial pages.
So, for those organizations with aspirations for a Pulitzer (new or repeat), here are just a few of the many studies that need to be done.
- Let’s compare in constant dollars what San Diegans pay today per capita for core municipal services such as police, fire, parks, libraries, trash, water/sewer for the same services in 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, 1950, etc., etc. Let’s also compare police and fire respond times, square yards of park land provided per citizen, the number of library books per capita, the pounds of trash collected per capita, changes in water quality standards, changes in the level of sewage treatment, etc., etc. for each 10-year period.
- Conduct an economic impact analysis that looks objectively at whether or not local tax dollars may properly be viewed as an investment rather than punitively viewing tax expenditures always as money “lost.” Analyze the number and income value of the public sector jobs created, the resulting impact of those jobs on the local economy, and the impact of having a sound infrastructure and key municipal services on home values. Many San Diegans brag about their high home values and generally attribute these much if not most of these high values to the great weather. Well, Haiti has good weather too, but with an economy – and home values – in shambles amid the almost complete lack of public investment, thanks to longstanding governmental corruption and incompetence. Our home values in San Diego reflect much more than the weather
Does anyone truly believe that what we call the public sector has had absolutely no impact or affect whatsoever upon local property values? What will happen to San Diego home values if we continue to dismantle what was once a very competent local government? (The same of course applies to educational expenditures.)