Stop the Presses: Choices and
By Mike Kroll
and appointed public officials have many duties but among their most important
is the responsible expenditure of tax dollars. No one likes to pay taxes and
most like to complain about the taxes they do pay but there's no denying that
tax dollars are the life blood of government. As taxpayers and citizens we need
our civic leaders to recognize what infrastructure and services are needed and
to partial out the limited available tax dollars by making prioritized choices.
Just as we cannot afford to fund everything we might like done by government
there are many items we simply cannot afford not to fund.
elect our leaders to make these tough choices and set the priorities. Such hard
choices will often be unpopular and this is especially true when the occasional
necessity of raising taxes or fees occurs. In a republic such as ours we elect
leaders to make these hard choices and if we're not happy with the choices they
make we are free to vote for their opponent in the next election cycle. What
our leaders must not do is believe that they are “representing their
constituents” when a controversial choice must be made by allowing those who
make the most noise determine their vote. Members of the community have the right
and indeed duty to make their feelings known to our officials but the decision
must be made on the merits of the issue not merely on perceived popularity.
weeks ago the Galesburg City Council voted down two new taxes proposed by City
Manager Gary Goddard. Admittedly, Goddard exhibited poor political skills in
the handling of each tax but his rationale that the city needs additional tax
income was correct. The loud voices who objected to any tax increase “during
this period of time” were not speaking as rational informed citizens but rather
were emotional and self-centered.
Goddard should have specified exactly how he thought the added tax money should
be spent. He should also have clued the City Council members into his plan more
than a day or so before the agenda with the twin bombshells hit the city
website. The argument that Goddard
should have entered into constructive dialog with the restaurateurs and
alcohol merchants in Galesburg before putting the food and alcohol tax before
the City Council is amusing but irrelevant. There is no way he was going to win
support from this group for this tax regardless of the amount of prior
simple facts are (a) the City needs additional revenue, (b) general sales taxes
are the most regressive tax you can impose (the state is almost certain to
raise or expand sales taxes after the November election regardless of the
gubernatorial victor because the state needs additional revenue as well), (c)
property taxes have been so demonized as to render any discussion of
significantly increasing the levy moot, and (d) Goddard's point that taxing
prepared food and alcohol is both fairer and less painful for the average tax
payer is right on the money.
telecommunications tax is a different matter. While it raises more revenue it
is a very regressive tax that disproportionately hits poor families.
Additionally, the existing telecommunication tax is already a substantially
larger relative proportion of the average telephone subscriber's bill that would
grow to huge proportions if it were tripled from its current two percent to six
are many pressing needs in the City of Galesburg today that are not adequately
funded. A large portion of these are related to infrastructure like our
streets, sidewalks, storm sewers and parks. Perhaps nothing demonstrates how
badly the City has underfunded maintenance of our infrastructure as the “crown
jewel,” our prized water system that is literally crumbling from decades of
neglect and artificially low water rates, particularly for large water users.
And then we have highly anticipated but optional infrastructure projects the
the three railroad crossings we want to replace with bridges or underpasses.
a government is not easy. The competition for tax dollars is great and the
demands of government even greater. This competition doesn't lessen as you
climb to the State or Federal government level, it grows far more intense as
the magnitude of the dollars involved increase geometrically. There can be little
doubt that our City leaders will be looking to both the State and Federal
governments for help with many of the infrastructure needs and especially with
the pipeline and bridges. And, we must also understand that State and Federal
politicians likewise must make choices and prioritize the funds they dole out
to help cities such as ours.
is why we should consider long and hard how much pressure we want to place on
State Representative Don Moffitt, Senators Barack Obama and Dick Durbin, and
Governor Rod Blagojevich to assist
in funding local projects like the National Railroad Hall of Fame. If you
accept that there is a cap to just how much State and Federal money will be
sent our way in the next few years wouldn't you rather it go toward essential
infrastructure like the water system or bridges over the tracks than for a nice
but clearly non-essential project like the Hall of Fame?
citizens we need to be prepared to pay our fair share of taxes and fees to
ensure the quality of life and services in Galesburg. We should argue
strenuously against wasteful spending or the false savings that are obtained by
neglecting necessary maintenance of infrastructure. The City Manager and the
City Council will be making those hard choices in the coming months and we need
to hope they will have their spending priorities in the right places. Blindly
arguing against any increases in taxes or fees is not only disingenuous and
selfish – it also happens to be counterproductive to your own pocketbook