“FUDing” to Pass Tax Hikes

Several California communities are considering tax increases to cover the loss of revenue from the vehicle license fee rollback recently signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Employing traditional government accounting i.e., budgeting for what you expect to have rather than what is sustainable, cities like Berkeley were counting on that additional revenue to sustain (grow) its budget. Now that they’re faced with some belt tightening, the council is employing the all too familiar communications strategy of “FUD” or fear, uncertainty, and disaster to get what they want. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates says that if voters turn down the proposed parcel tax in March that the city will face “the prospect of laying off police officers and firefighters, closing a fire station and reducing other services.” He further notes that the city has “hit the wall” and without the tax will have to end all foot and bicycle patrols, police in schools, and one of the city’s seven fire stations…as well as funding for health and homeless programs. Nearby Alameda County is using the same strategy to help pass a measure that would raise the county’s sales tax to 8.75 percent from teh current 8.25 percent. “God knows how we’re going to make it through the rest of the year without closing more facilities or laying off employees or trying to raise the rates on people who don’t have the ability to pay,” said Joe DeVries, an aide to Supervisor Nate Miley. By making these pleas the governments are suggesting that they operate at optimal efficiency and effectiveness. Everything they do is necessary and a proper function of government. But what’s worse is that the first to go always are the essential services like police and fire. Why not talk about cost savings initatives for fleet and building maintenance, or parks and library services? Put simply, FUD passes tax increases. Hopefully, taxpayers of these (and other) communities will reject these notions that governments are already perfect. Policy makers should have to make the tough decisions, and shouldn’t be let off the hook with tax increases. I guarantee that there are opportunities for improvement (i.e., cost savings) through a number of strategies including privatization in every community — you just have to be willing to look for them.