O.C Register: A tax hike in search of a purpose

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Today’s editorial: A tax hike in search of a purpose

Santa Ana uses a self-serving resident poll to justify higher taxes to benefit the police.

An Orange County Register editorial

The city of Santa Ana is determined to raise taxes on its residents and has adopted one of the more dishonest tactics to gin up support for such an increase. Officials are using a taxpayer-funded public-opinion survey to prove that the public really does want to give more of its hard-earned cash to a city government that is more than too happy to spend more of it.

As the Register reported, the city hired a Sacramento-based polling firm in March in the hopes that residents would tell pollsters that they want higher taxes to pay to fix Santa Ana’s poorly maintained, pothole-filled roads. To the officials’ dismay, residents overwhelmingly opposed the idea of paying higher taxes for roadwork. But officials saw an opportunity in another question, in which residents said they would give “high priority” to higher taxes to deal with gang prevention.

And so the tax-hiking folks at City Hall spotted an opportunity. Aha, they said, residents are clamoring to pay more taxes to boost the police department’s budget. Yet already more than half the city budget goes to the department. As Councilman Carlos Bustamante told the Register, crime has gone down over the past two decades even though the number of police officers per capita has declined as population has increased. “That tells you throwing money at the problem doesn’t always fix the problem,” he said.

Mr. Bustamante is right. His point is reinforced when one considers that this is a tax increase in search of a purpose. Had the city really believed that there is a desperate need for more police, then it would have commissioned a poll that focused on police needs. Instead, it commissioned the poll based on its presumption that roadwork was the prime need. Apparently, city officials will raise taxes for any and all purposes, which is easier than doing what 84 percent of respondents told the city-hired pollsters: that “spending tax money efficiently” is a high priority.

The whole business of polling residents about tax hikes is dubious. There is no deep desire by officials in any city that uses such techniques to glean the priorities of residents. The goal is to push residents toward embracing higher taxes. The questions are geared to elicit the proper response. One never finds questions of this sort: “Should city officials consider lowering the outrageous salaries of public employees to make up for the budget shortfall?” Or “Do you believe the roads are in such bad shape and gang crime is on the rise because officials are doing a poor job running the government agencies that are supposed to deal with these serious issues?”

Nope. The goal of such polling is to create a phony public groundswell for the easiest and preferred course by government officials, which is tax raising. Santa Ana residents ought to at least be wise to the scam.

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.