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Jim Ruffalo: Brave are they who propose another tax hike

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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There are a couple of things that probably aren’t the smartest ideas. On that list are testing hand grenades in a closet, or buying a luminous sundial so you can tell time at night. Then there’s one idea so preposterous one would think it didn’t need to be included on the list, because it’s so foolish nobody would attempt it. Despite being such an outlandish notion, it seems there are people who propose a tax hike in the midst of the worst recession since 1929. But there are such people as Rob Haswell and Ken Tokutomi. They visited the Meddlers Tuesday to start a conversation about a proposed parcel tax to help out the cash-strapped Auburn Union School District. Now the pair may not be the brightest bunnies in the hutch, but you certainly have to award points for bravery. After all, asking the beleaguered taxpayers for yet another “contribution” has to be akin to having the health department hold its annual banquet at Arco Arena. But there they were, pushing Measure L! Now I’ve been reporting on tax proposals for close to four decades, and I’ve yet to see one that I welcomed. Still, as tax measures go, you have to say this time the proponents (Citizens For a Stronger Auburn) really did their homework in trying to make the proposed parcel charge palatable. For starters, it’s only $59, although I have to agree with those who point out the word “only” doesn’t fit well with “$59” in times such as these. “That was the lowest amount we could live with,” Tokutomi said, explaining that anything less wouldn’t be much help, and anything more probably wouldn’t get the necessary two-thirds vote. “As it is, it’s just a Band-Aid,” he added, pointing out the $800,000 gleaned over the next five years probably would be just about enough to keep the lights on, nothing more. “If we don’t do this, then bankruptcy is possible within three years, meaning that the state moves in and runs our local district,” Tokutomi said later. To sell such an idea requires some excellent points, and Haswell had a few. One of them called for allowing seniors (65 years or older) to opt out of paying the new parcel charges, On the surface, the reasoning is seniors live on limited incomes, but in the long run, don’t we all? So this little ploy is nothing more than a way to get some votes from people who have nothing to lose should an additional parcel charge further encumber their property. However, it’s not a bad idea to garner an extra vote or two. But Haswell’s most brilliant proposal was the so-called “poison pill,” which would preclude the state Legislature from grabbing any portion of the new funds. He said there’s language in the measure which would immediately cancel the parcel charge should the state steal, borrow or otherwise use any portion. That little gotcha would be enough for me to actually consider a tax hike, if I resided within the school district’s boundaries. Both proponents admitted that asking for even more money won’t make them popular. “But something has to be done to keep the district going,” Haswell said. He’s right, of course, but no matter how you play it, it remains a tax hike. And judging from the pointed questions from the Meddlers, this is one tough sell. Moderator Steve Galyardt had a particularly insightful question, wanting to know what the teachers unions were willing to give up in order to persuade voters to accept the parcel charge. In other words, if the property owners are being asked to dip deeper, are the teachers unions willing to do likewise? Now if the immediate response is either “no” or “no way,” then the discussion is doomed. After all, when one considers that more than half of every tax dollar paid in California winds up getting spent on education, then one has every right to be very careful in allotting yet more funds. And to be painfully candid, taxpayers don’t get much bang for their buck. Haswell and Tokutomi deserve praise for proposing some solutions. Whether those are the correct answers is — as it should be — up to taxpayers.  Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at jimruffalo@yahoo.com.