Political help is not the best use of tight county cash

Political help is not the best use of tight county cash

9 November 2008

published by www.marinij.com

USA —  Marin supervisors haven’t wasted any time reviving talk of a sales tax increase for wildland fire protection and the acquisition and maintenance of open space.

In August, three of five supervisors voted against putting a similar tax measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. That was the right decision, but supervisors already are talking about placing a tax hike before voters.

That will please local environmental group that were disappointed in August when the tax plan that had been in the works for months was scuttled at the last minute.

They are pushing for a tax increase to replenish the county’s pool of cash for buying open space and saving the land from development.

The August vote by supervisors also was criticized by some who say Marin needs to do a better job of being prepared for a major wildfire. They make a good case.

If supervisors are convinced the county cannot afford such important fire-prevention work with the tax revenue it now receives, it should consider a special tax measure.

But combining a fire tax with open space is a political move designed to create a broader campaign base by having open-space advocates join forces with fire-prevention supporters.

Supervisors should consider a more straight-forward approach and separate the two into two distinct measures.

After all, “clean water” wording was added to the last version of the scuttled tax plan – not because the measure would spend a penny on clean-water projects, but because the label boosted

its support in voter polls. The move backfired, however, once it became clear that such a cynical political tactic threatened to doom the tax plan’s chances before voters. A tax increase requires two-thirds approval.

We also are disappointed that the county seems to believe it needs to spend taxpayer money on hiring political help to shape such decisions, such as the board’s tentative plan to hire a “community outreach” expert or a consultant.

The difference between “community outreach” and campaigning is fuzzy at best. Supervisor Judy Arnold already has taken issue with the one-sided political tinge to the “outreach” for the county’s Marin Clean Energy plan.

During her 2006 campaign, Arnold questioned whether the county was hiring too many high-priced consultants.

Supervisors have tentatively endorsed that investment as part of an $850,000 program that includes hiring two park rangers and a staffer for FireSafe Marin, the countywide fire prevention team. Those investments make more sense than spending money on more politically oriented duties that are better handled by Marin’s five supervisors, who should do a better job of engaging their constituents in the decision-making process.

By relying on active leadership, rather than spending more taxpayer dollars to hire political operatives, supervisors might be able to avoid a repeat of their last-minute, split decision to scrap a tax plan that clearly was headed for a bruising political campaign.

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