“Tragedy renews sales-tax debate” reads the story’s headline. “Union Tribune renews sales-tax debate by campaigning on corpse of toddler” would have been more accurate.
The A-1 article linked the tragic death of 2-year-old Bentley Do to “brownouts” in public safety service, brownouts it said would be fixed with a 5-year sales tax hike for residents of the city of San Diego. The rate would go from 8.75 cents on the dollar to 9.25 cents.
That reasoning is dubious, if not outright specious. The brownouts are imposed by city officials, who have spent time on higher priorities, such as lobbying for various mega-projects such as a new City Hall, the “schoolbrary,” a convention center expansion, etc. Meanwhile, the city’s pension debt keeps climbing. This lack of prudent financial oversight drove the city into the financial mess it is struggling to climb out of.
Raising taxes lessens fiscal discipline, which the city appeared to be belatedly acquiring after suffering from foolish and inept government. As a native San Diegan (I live in Allied Gardens, one mile from where I grew up), I don’t want to see the city fall into that trap again.
When governments find themselves in a financial squeeze, they are supposed to set priorities. Public safety is supposed to be government’s highest priority. Was it really impossible for the city of San Diego to cut its budget elsewhere on non-public safety items to keep the fire stations fully functional? Or was it politically impossible, because some City Hall politicians have an edifice complex?
Also importantly, would the sales tax hike money have prevented Bentley Do’s death — the putative reason for the article? As the Union-Tribune article itself conceded, “it’s impossible to know whether Bentley would have survived had paramedics arrived sooner,” but that didn’t stop the Union-Tribune’s editors from making the link.
I say “editors,” because they (or perhaps their superiors) are responsible. As a wise old former editor of mine liked to say, “Reporters don’t put stories in the paper. Editors do.”
Sales tax hike advocates were crushed when Mayor Jerry Sanders abandoned his rumored effort to lobby for the half-cent hike. It would appear that so was the Union-Tribune’s new management. I expected better from them.
Fortunately, judging by the hundreds of comments left on the story, the public is not swayed by this emotional pitch. Comments run overwhelmingly against the proposed sales tax hike.
The Union-Tribune should stop using supposedly “objective” news stories to lobby for its pet projects. It should place opinions where they belong, on the opinion page and blogs like this one. And get rid of the not-so-hidden agendas.
UPDATE: Saturday, 8 a.m.
Voice of San Diego takes a less biased look at the sales tax hike proposal in the context of Bentley Do’s death.
However, I think the VOSD article is flawed by accepting the premise that there is any connection between raising the sales tax and ending the brownouts. That is the argument made by the sales tax hike supporters. Although neutrally worded, the VOSD article appears to be written from the viewpoint of city government officials, who generally favor the tax hike.
Donna Frye, a consistently honest councilmember, made this interesting comment in the VOSD article:
Interest groups will tie the City Hall vote to a tax increase, Frye said. They’ll do the same with the city’s recent decision to build a $185 million new main library. Voters are less likely, she implied, to support a tax increase if they think it’s going toward big buildings.
“Whether we like them or not those are the big elephants in the room right now,” Frye said.
Frye is exactly right. However, her characterization of opponents as interest groups needs to be challenged. (If the indirect quote by VOSD properly described the characterization, I should add.)
That rather disparaging reference to “interest groups” can also be applied to supporters of raising the sales tax. The article would have been better had it brought in a voice from outside the City Hall tax-and-spend complex to make that point.
Elsewhere, the local Tea Party folks are as disgusted as I am with the City Hall politicians and the Union-Tribune’s blatant push for a higher sales tax in an “objective” news article. From Temple of Mut:
I grieve for the loss of Bentley Do, and my prayers go for his spirit and my sympathies to his family. However, the assertion that we San Diegans are not paying enough in taxes for proper emergency services is contemptible, cynical, atrocious, and insulting. What we need is pension reform, enhanced efficiencies, and curtailing the bureaucratic waste in this city.
My fellow San Diegans — are we to be guilt-tripped by this accident into feeding more money to the government beast? Once again, “the children” are being used an an excuse to take more control of our lives.
Imagine if our city leaders showed so much aggressive initiative and imagination in actually resolving the city’s fiscal problems!
And from B-Daddy at The Liberator Today:
Local governments have a long history of reducing vital services when faced with tax revolts. Now that we have an active tea party movement, we won’t let them get away with this.
UPDATE: Saturday, 4:25 p.m
Voice of San Diego posted a helpful explainer about what would happen with the money from a sales tax hike in the City of San Diego: Whatever the city wants:
“If voters approve the sales tax measure as proposed, the money raised simply would flow into the city’s day-to-day operating budget, or general fund. That means the money could be used for everything the city’s general fund pays for including police and fire services, employee pensions and the new Civic Center as it’s currently planned. Certain departments, such as water and sewer, are excluded from the general fund and wouldn’t get any of the money.”
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As with everything I write here, this article is my opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, the North County Times.