In November of 2013 a Bee staff writer opined that “trust” might have been an issue in the failure of Measure X.
Remember Measure X? The 1 percent sales tax increase that promised to make us all safe? Trust might be an even bigger issue today than it was then with this newly proposed one-half percent sales tax known as Measure G. Let’s take a look.
Measure X would have raised $26 million annually; Measure G would raise a projected $14 million. If we really needed $26 million 18 months ago, why do we need less now?
Police and fire are touted as the exclusive beneficiaries of these new monies. A discerning person might conclude that if the request for $26 million had passed in November 2013, almost half of it would have been used for something other than safety. You can be sure everyone down at City Hall has a wish list, and in all likelihood it’s different from the one you or I might have.
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Then again, if today a one-half percent sales tax has been anointed, perhaps a one-fourth percent sales tax could actually do the job. Best of all, why not encourage greater community collaboration and forget the tax?
On the other hand, perhaps the city has already found some money somewhere.
What about Police Chief Galen Carroll’s anti-theft shutdown device, which is installed at the time of sale on cars deemed most likely to be stolen?
Is it paid for by the city as a public good? Not a chance. It was forced onto car dealers and passed onto car buyers. A $70 tax no one asked for and which benefits few. And oh, yes, the city did find an extra $3.14 million (“City finds extra $3.14 million,” Page 4A, Aug. 31).
Now let’s check out the new Downtown Modesto Community Benefit District that has its own new tax.
The benefit district tax passed, but it’s not democracy in action. Only those who own property were allowed to vote, and those who have the most property had the most votes. Guess what? The biggest downtown property owner is the city of Modesto itself. The majority of property owners (60 percent) actually voted against the benefit district. Never mind. It’s a done deal and was rigged from the start.
The benefit district will raise $700,000 a year and be used to clean up downtown with the employ of a private police force to control the homeless. It’s curious – the primary plan is hiring private police rather than finding a safe place for the homeless to sleep or providing accessible bathrooms.
Don’t be fooled. This new Downtown ommunity Benefit District is all about solving the problem of the homeless, but says nothing about helping them. And if the city of Modesto is putting up most of the money for this new venture, it’s your money.
In keeping with the spirit of this new benefit district, the City Council has passed a series of helping ordinances that limit panhandling. They act as if we are not able to decide for ourselves whether or not to give a hungry man a dollar.
Manipulation in the matter of this new tax is blatantly transparent. Recognizing a trust issue remains, the City Council has proposed a blue ribbon panel to keep an eye on Measure G, making sure the money is spent as promised. The panel is meant to be reassuring, but this one could backfire. If the council cannot trust itself to oversee this new source of revenue, why should we?
Ed Bearden is a retired social worker and former poet laureate of Modesto.