Is This Taxation Without Representation?

These opinions are my own, and are not necessarily shared by the other members of Grand Rapids Voice.

The article which I intended to do today had to be postponed, as I could not access the information which I needed to make it credible. In the interim, here is a commentary on another situation which has already been reported on by the Herald Review. The link to their article is: Hearing focuses on future financing of education – Grand Rapids Herald-Review: News.

The main focus of the article, to me, seems to be that residents were upset that the school district levied for funds without voter approval, using the authority of the Omnibus E-12 Education Act, and that the residents were not aware that the amount that they were expected to pay would increase so much.

The board, it is reported, apparently to help solve what they perceived as the problem, voted to approve the posting of a new Communication Specialist.

I must be speaking an entirely different language though, because I really do not see the problem as one of a failure to communicate appropriations levy to the community, I see it as a completely errant law designed to allow school boards across the state to raise money from their communities without allowing the option to the community members to have a say at the polls.

What was wrong, after all, with the system by which a school board was required to lay their case for increased funding to the people, and the funds were only approved if the board was successful in proving their need to the voters? Are we to be content to allow them to extract money from us without being first required to make their case and allow us to vote on it? This seems to me to be not much different than going out to eat at a restaurant, and telling the waiter, after the meal, to charge whatever he wants, and it will be acceptable.

In addition, the decision to install a Communication Specialist as a resolution to the complaints smacks as an insult to the voters. It’s as if we are being told that our opinions are not relevant, and that if things are explained to us by a specialist in communications, we will have to agree in the end, no matter what we really think now. Is this a page out of Edward Bernays‘ playbook?

Yes, in my opinion, this is taxation without representation. When the state government passes a law which gives the local government the ability to raise our taxes, and we are excluded from any opportunity to vote on the increase, we, the people, have been shut out of the process, and can only obey or disobey, but can no longer easily influence the policy decisions.

Your Vote vs. The Lobby

This week I read an article in the Herald Review detailing how Itasca County hired a lobbyist to represent the county’s interests at the state level. I must say before I continue it is a given that at least most counties and certainly many cities as well employ lobbyists for this purpose. Failure to do so would place the county at a distinct disadvantage when competing with other entities for legislative attention. The details in the referenced article, and the name of the lobbyist, are not necessary to this conversation, but I will put a link to that article at the end of this one for those who are interested in reading it.

I think we need to seriously ask the question, “How did we get to the point at which this is deemed necessary and beneficial?”

It seems to me to be completely obvious that the way our system was originally intended to work was for the people to elect their representative, who would then vote for the interests of the constituency without intermediate influence. Have we now come to a mutation of the system whereby we must, in addition to voting for representation we must also pay a lobbyist to encourage that representative to listen to us? Certainly, as I have pointed out, if one entity, in this case a county,  does not hire a lobbyist, that entity puts itself at an extreme disadvantage, but does this situation really benefit us in the long run?

We have somewhere along the way installed what might be described as an additional layer of government. The lobbyist appears to have become a necessary fixture between the constituents and their representatives. I am afraid that the primary result of this may well be the scenario in which the ones who spend the most and hire the best lobbyists get the most representation.

Is it time to reform this system of lobbying which has appeared on our landscape?

Here is the link for those who would like to see the article which started me thinking about this topic: Solberg to serve as legislative lobbyist for Itasca County – Grand Rapids Herald-Review: News.

Fines and Forfeits.

Boss_Hogg_(Sorrell_Booke)The basis for this post is a page from the State Auditor’s site comparing the 2012 revised budget for the city of Grand Rapids with the 2013 proposed city budget.

The specific page can be seen at…..https://scontent-a-dfw.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/1476310_1439967979555592_403096155_n.png

The auditor’s site is…..http://www.osa.state.mn.us/Search/CitySearch.aspx

You will be able to see in the “Fines and Forfeits” line that the 2012 revised budget includes $133,100 in this category.

On the same line, the proposed amount for the 2013 budget is $286,050, a 114.9% increase over the previous year.

This was very disturbing when I saw it. You see, fines and forfeits are revenue sources derived from taking money from people who have failed to comply with laws or ordinances. A penalty for either doing wrong or failing to do right. I can easily understand budgeting a similar amount as was collected in the previous year, if the people drawing up the budget operate under the assumption that roughly the same number of people will violate the law from one year to the next. The problem here is, they have budgeted a 114.9% increase from one year to the next.

Are they saying that the incidence of non-compliance is going to more than double in a year’s time? Highly unlikely, I think, as no one could be omniscient enough to predict that level of increase in what is, essentially, crime, in such a short period of time.

To understand the difference in this number, we need a plausible explanation. All to whom I have spoken about this generally agree on a hypothesis, which is not only plausible, but in my opinion, likely.

According to this hypothesis, the city of Grand Rapids seems to be viewing the citizens, and even our friends and family who come to visit, as not much more than a source of revenue to fund its apparatus and status quo.

Since it is quite reasonable to conclude that a prediction of a doubling of the number of violations is virtually impossible, be must look to other explanations for such a large increase in revenue from this source to be included in the proposed budget.

Has there been a doubling of enforcement activities this year? I have seen no sign of such, and would like anyone who has to contact me and provide me with their accounts of this. At any rate, if this were indeed the case, the city records should reflect this at the end of the year. In the event that this is the cause of the increase to the budget numbers, how could this be seen as anything other than a planned attempt by the city to raise additional revenues?

Have quotas been instituted? I would like to think that the city would not stoop to such a level, as, for example, traffic citation quotas are illegal. See http://statutes.laws.com/minnesota/299A-299N/299D/299D_08 for confirmation of this.

Perhaps the city increased the number of administrative citations. The statute regarding this is Mn statute 169.999, and can be found here: http://statutes.laws.com/minnesota/160-174A/169/169_999

Have any readers received one of these this year? Was it for the mandatory $60, or for some other amount? Were you advised at the time of the citation that you had a right to dispute it before a neutral third party? Again, if you have any information on this subject, please contact me.

We must, at this point, unless and until more information to the contrary is provided in the City’s defense, conclude that the projected increase in the revenue of 114.9% is the City’s attempt, by some means, simply to raise money at the expense of citizens of Grand Rapids, and our friends and families who enter the city limits while visiting us.

Property taxes in Grand Rapids.

Since yesterday I have been reading and re-reading the following article from the Herald Review.

Residents question property tax increase – Grand Rapids Herald-Review: News.

This subject needs far more attention than it has been given.

There are two comments which stand out above the rest of the article.

First, someone made the statement that this tax is regressive in that it increases more for lower incomes than for higher ones. If this is, as alleged, true across a wide spectrum, how can it be justified?

Second, a person whose home had apparently recently annexed into the city claimed that their taxes had increased nearly 300%, while service had not improved. I recently talked to someone else I knew who had the same complaint. Recently annexed into the city, they saw their taxes increase more than 300% with no increase in service.

Is the city targeting people of lesser means and who do not have as much of an ability to resist the increases?

Is the city annexing property, not for the betterment of the community, but to simply raise revenue at the expense of those who had originally chosen to live outside of the city limits, many for that very reason?

Spread these questions around, let’s get others to comment on their experiences with the city property tax structure.

Are infrastructure projects in Grand Rapids running ahead of our needs and our ability to pay?

Let’s take another look at this article, posted some time ago, but still relevant.

roundabout

In reading “Golf Course Road traffic study findings revealed to the City” (Herald Review 11/11/09) I noticed the unfamiliar name Tom Schweide listed as the traffic engineer for the study.  Who is Schweide? A new city engineer, an understudy of our own city engineer Tom Pagel?  Perhaps he works for the city planner Rob Mattei or is another member of his staff.   Perhaps if I Google on Tom Sohweide I will find what the Herald missed.  Ah yes, there it is, it appears he is an employee of SEH.

How can SEH not have a conflict here?  They author a study, recommend the project and then procure the engineering work.  I assume they are being paid for each facet of the project?  The conflict of interest in these situations, I would think, is enormous.  Why wouldn’t they recommend this project and all projects?  After all ,they are a private company existing to make money.

Look at the history of our own city engineers and their association with SEH and their affiliates.  If I’m not mistaken, Tom Pagel worked within this organization prior to becoming City engineer.   Over on the County side, I believe, Engineer Tony Carter also came from this group.  Where did they come from and where do they go when they leave is perhaps the question that needs to be asked and does the City Council and Mayor share culpability by allowing this to go unchecked?

Governmental bodies are required to do long term comprehensive plans with citizen input meetings.  I believe this city also hired SEH to facilitate many of those meetings in the past.  This choice by the city of using this same firm on so many projects, in so many aspects of the project, seems to be embroiled in conflict of interest questions and appears to open the door to reciprocity behind the scenes with no checks and balances to protect the party ultimately paying the bill, you!

Look around folks you have no increasing industrial tax base to carry these projects. However, this may be the reason you have a pilot payment tax, the highest storm water sewer tax in the state, a 2% public project administration tax, a huge building permit tax, an excessive property tax levy and huge assessments. Will you lose your home or property to assessments? Some already have.

Make no mistake, since these are city or county projects I’m sure there is some form of competitive bid process on these projects. The questions to be asked is are these projects conceived out of necessity, or driven by outside engineering firms giving birth to projects in an ongoing marketing effort to sell services?