The Recall vs the Roads: Shall We Recall Adam Smith?


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Most of those driving down Orangethorpe on their way to Fullerton’s CostCo will probably notice out of a corner of their eye a few orange and black signs reading, “Newman Raised Taxes!” They’ll probably also notice a heavily potholed ride along the way in that stretch, and probably never connect the signs they see to the bumps they feel.

The folks on the 91 Freeway won’t see these signs, and even if they could, they probably ought to keep their eyes on the bumper-to-bumper traffic around them.  If they listen to NPR, they might hear a story some time, a vague reference to a recall amid a flurry of other news.  If they listen to the local AM feeds, they’ve heard a lot more about this recall, and the horrific betrayal of a freshman State Senator, Josh Newman, and probably been exposed to the ‘dastardly plan to make any funds raised by gas taxes actually be spent on road and highway maintenance.’  How dare he!  That’s not in sync with Fullerton residents!  Oh wait…maybe it is.

See, Fullerton adopted a 2017-2018 budget allocating $25.8 million to ‘capital improvements’ – and about $6 million of that went to re-paving and repairing roads, including, one hopes, Orangethorpe.  Against that, Fullerton is a city of some 140,000 people, in a state with 40 million, fighting for enough of the total CalTrans budget to keep everything smooth enough to drive on.  The goal isn’t ‘beautiful roads’ – but simply ‘fair’ roads.  Fair enough, anyway.

One wonders: if the ‘gas tax’ is ‘wrong,’ then should Fullerton residents pay increased property taxes, which accounted for $54m in revenue?  Other taxes, which collectively, amount to $27 million? New licenses and permit fees (which account for $1.9 m?  Are the wealthy, well-placed citizens of Fullerton volunteering to raise their property taxes even more to cover the costs of roads for other people to use?  Or have they arranged a blockade of CalTrans to fight off the residents of larger cities, similarly jostling to get their roads fit to drive?

Until someone supporting the recall shows an alternative source of $3m (spent on roads, not on election workers seeking a recall) – one must assume they either don’t know, or don’t care.  San Diego politicians and other outsiders bankrolling this measure may not give a damn about Fullerton’s roads, but the folks who live there have to.  The city council voted last month to accept $3 million from the gas tax  – shouldn’t they all be recalled too?

Adam Smith offered perhaps the most tenable solution to what to do about roads: those who use them most should pay the most for their use (whenever possible).  Taking money from a ‘general fund’ will cause residents of one town to pay for benefits in another town, intruding into the free market.  Now plopping tolls on every local road simply isn’t possible, and also, a fact that didn’t apply in Smith’s day and age when few folks wandered more than a mile from their homes, but we depend on these roads for our daily life: they are necessary, they must be financed adequately, but-for the roads, we cannot live as we do.  A gas tax is probably the closest we can get to a Smith ideal while living an Orange County lifestyle.

So before voting on a recall of Josh Newman, I propose a modest recall of Adam Smith: he was obviously out of sync with Fullerton residents, and his principles never should have been endorsed as a basis for capitalism as we know it.  I’ve yet to see any signs posted calling for an “Adam Smith ban” in Fullerton, but if such signs do pop up, I expect it will probably be near banks and commercial centers, as well as along bumpy roads like Orangethorpe.


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