ALPERN AT LARGE - I don't really know if I want to call it "Alpern's Law on Taxes" or just a general principle that I (and so many of us … arguably the majority of us) hold to be an obvious truth:
There's Only One Thing More Important to Taxpayers Than The Amount Of Taxes They Have To Pay--It's The Perception Of How The Taxes Are Being Spent. In light of recent tax-raising efforts by the City and County of Los Angeles, perhaps the corollary of "it's the perception of how the taxes are being raised."
To the relief of many, the City of Los Angeles has dropped a sudden and rushed $3 billion bond proposal to have landowners pay for a street repair overhaul for the City's crumbling road system, and the County of Los Angeles has dropped a sneaky and equally-rushed parcel fee on (again) landowners to create a storm water cleanup effort and address water quality issues.
There are many CityWatch readers --and Americans in general--who decry the efforts of Tea Party and taxpayer advocates to refocus opposition to that "taxation without representation thing" (there are all sorts of cute and uncivil terms thrown at them for their efforts), but we did found our nation in part on the principle that we did not want a King but a group of elected leaders who would both ask us for the right sacrifices and protect us from exploitation and servitude from our government.
But we do need transportation, education, a clean environment, so we should look upon these dropped taxation efforts as both the opportunity for THREE lessons learned and/or failed opportunities for our elected leaders to do their jobs and help us meet our needs:
1) Stop slamming the voters and taxpayers as uncaring of the environment, our economy, our children, etc. by browbeating us to pay more for government priorities that already should be budgeted. Whether it's the L.A. City Council, L.A. County Board of Supervisors, our Governor, or even the President and Congress, the idea of taxation by fiat and poor management of said taxation--no matter what the righteous or venerable cause or intent--will always spark opposition by voters and taxpayers.
Of course we want our roads, new rail systems (where they make sense), sidewalks, parks, schools, clean water and air. We like puppy dogs and flowers, too, but the idea of paying twice, thrice or even more for the services that should be reasonably purchased would offend anyone. Here's a thought: create a budget process that funds the roads and sewage and infrastructure first, and throw in "the other stuff" later.
What "other stuff"? Usually it's the giveaways and pathetic hirings and transfers that establishes the embellishment of elected and appointed and hired public sector officials and employees above the needs of the taxpayers who pay for them. We need well-paid professionals and middle-class jobs, but that endeavor is best done with the private sector creating most of the jobs and with that same private sector getting their transportation, infrastructure, education, safety/security, environmental and other needs paid for at a reasonable price by a cooperative and supportive public sector.
As I've done in past CityWatch articles, I will again reference how Controller Wendy Greuel answered my query about taxpayer ombudsmen being represented at union contract talks at a past Mar Vista Community Council Board meeting, and she reported that it was the jobs of the electeds to be those ombudsmen. Would she or any other mayoral candidate be willing to discuss charter reform measures to ensure the same number of Neighborhood Council-elected ombudsmen/representatives to be present as union representatives to ensure taxpayer advocacy? I didn't think so. Pity.
2) Treat the taxpayers like adults, and they'll usually do the right thing.
It shouldn't be hard to figure out that credibility and transparency on the part of tax-raising and tax-managing politicians to their constituents, but the Golden Rule is clearly lost on individuals too detached, clueless or even corrupt to get the job done. There's no need to go to any libertarian or statist extremes to fund our obvious needs (promoting our economy, environment and quality of life), but after two of the highest voter supports for raising taxes (Transportation Measure R that passed in 2008, and Transportation Measure J that nearly passed in 2012), it's not hard to conclude that taxpayers will, when asked, do the right thing.
In this Internet age of surveys and polls, is it that hard to put it to the voters, of all socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, to ask them how to best raise funds for special measures?
Is it that hard or unreasonable to ask voters and grassroots, volunteer ombudsmen to devise new ways to budget and streamline our services? And when spending previously- or newly-raised revenues on education, transportation, etc., leads to a caving to union bullying or "creation of middle class jobs", when do the elected learn that such inappropriate prioritization eclipses the goal of getting our priorities funded in an efficient and cost-effective manner? One need not demonize or insult police, firefighters, teachers, street/construction workers, etc., but one need not demonize or insult their investors (those paying for their salaries and benefits), either.
For example: it's great that Governor Brown got the UC's to pledge to create cheaper online classes to make college more affordable, but why did it take so long to get the overpaid Regents to figure this no-brainer out?
It's great that the DWP will finally buy excess solar energy from the rooftops of homeowners, businesses and parking lot owners who have and will have solar panels, but why did it take so long for the DWP to finally listen to the homeowners, businessmen and environmentalists screaming for such a common sense proposition?
It will take sacrifice and a lowering of egos, but if the public sector, elected officials and taxpayer representatives are tasked in an open and mature manner to streamline our budgets and come up with new taxpayer initiatives to pay for necessary government services and new infrastructure initiatives, the extremists on both sides of the political aisle will usually give way to a common-sense, majority-consensus approach with first-rate answers.
3) Create transparency and simplicity in presenting a new taxpayer initiative (if it's needed).
The biggest complaints I've heard from other grassroots individuals and groups to new tax-raising infrastructure and other related initiatives is that we're letting private developers off the hook, and that there's no guarantee on how and where the new taxes would be spent.
It should be no surprise that rail station-adjacent developments are going up both Downtown and in the Westside but do these developments sufficiently contribute to the creation of parking, sidewalks, sewage, parks and related infrastructure to relieve the burden on taxpayers that rightfully should remain in the private sector?
On the other hand, it might be a surprise to some that Los Angeles' tourist industry is doing rather well, in part because of its geographic location and in part because of its policies and developing transit network. Universal Studios is already paying the price for its failure to directly connect to the Red Line Subway, but are we thinking ahead and smart to exploit the full advantages of our existing infrastructure and to create private/public partnerships to build new infrastructure?
For example, rather than having the Casden Developers screw up the strategically-located land parcel next to the future Exposition/Sepulveda rail station in the Westside, wouldn't it be smarter to have AEG, the City of Los Angeles and Metro purchase or cooperate with those developers to create a Westside Regional Transportation center to establish car, bus, rail and bicycle connections to transport Valley, South Bay and Westside commuters Downtown and back?
Similarly, can we get private investment to help fund a first-rate rail/airport connection at LAX, such as the public/private partnerships that County Supervisor Don Knabe and other officials have proposed? And if we create that connection, will the public be utilized effectively to create consensus?
In short, and to summarize, this is an Internet age that allows elected and appointed officials to easily collect the combined input of an informed electorate who can both derive innovative and consensus-supported approaches towards the fixes that the postponed City and County tax measures were trying to achieve.
Representative democracy isn't always a difficult thing, and it can actually achieve goals that a top-down, old-school public sector approach could almost never do in the past, and certainly will not do in the future. You want our roads and infrastructure fixed? Ask the voting and taxpaying public to help--they really DO care.
Vol 11 Issue 6
Pub: Jan 18, 2013