Two clear and passionate voices were heard in Modesto last week those of Mayor Garrad Marsh and Vito Chiesa, chairman of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.
We liked what we heard in each of their "state of" speeches, which we have summarized in the two attached editorials. Both men asked for public involvement and commitment to combat the issues bedeviling Modesto and Stanislaus County. Both offered bold analyses of our problems and equally bold solutions then backed them up with cogent and compelling reasoning.
Tuesday, Chiesa called on all county residents to pass a transportation sales tax which failed by a mere handful of votes in 2008. Better transportation infrastructure will create jobs, he reasons, and jobs are the county's No. 1 priority.
Wednesday, Marsh called for Modestans to pass a public safety sales tax. Modesto is down to 90 sworn officers on patrol and response-time performance for firefighters is beginning to suffer.
Both agendas are important. There's plenty of time and too many questions before we need to choose one or the other or both. For instance:
Will anyone support more sales tax?
Maybe. Stanislaus County supports its library with an eighth-cent levy, and Ceres residents passed a public-safety tax in 2007. A countywide increase to build roads failed in 2008 by only a handful of votes.
But times have changed. Proposition 30 added a quarter-cent to the statewide tax, and with Social Security taxes rising, many residents might feel taxed out.
If only one tax can pass, which is more important?
Impossible to say at this point, but consider:
In this era of gangs, random shootings and the failure of police responses in places like Stockton, people are hyperaware of their own safety. That's a plus for Marsh's plan. But when Marsh said "businesses don't look at roads, they want a safe place to do business," he was only partially right. Every business depends on transportation, and good roads are a high priority.
If the best reason to pass a tax is to create jobs, then building roads will create more of them especially if that money can be leveraged to gain state support. That, however, is always a longshot.
Is hiring more police officers the only answer to gang violence?
No, but it's a good start. Look at Stockton. Through the first 10 months of 2012, the city set records for homicides mostly gang- related. But in November, the CHP joined the Stockton police in patrolling the streets and the killings ceased. Still, everyone knows "you can't arrest your way out" of gang violence. It takes many solutions from many people.
The transportation tax has failed twice; are its chances any better now?
Probably not. Not only are we paying more taxes, but at least one supervisor Jim DeMartini has already gone on record saying he won't support it.
Are Chiesa and Marsh crazy for suggesting such big solutions?
If they are, then we're crazy about them for doing it. If anything, Modesto and Stanislaus County suffer from the curse of low expectations. We don't do big things because we don't think we can. But if no one proposes big solutions, they'll never be tried. We need to try something to confront the profound issues both of these leaders have laid out. Whether their ideas gain traction or not, we're impressed with both Chiesa and Marsh for proposing them.