Richard Greene

May 17, 2014

Voters answer tax increases with a big ‘yes’

A focus on resolving local issues and concerns transcends any political rhetoric.

I’m pretty sure that every candidate seeking election this year to any public office has promised to work against higher taxes.

Their anti-tax position also includes being opposed to just about any initiative that would yield additional revenue for the government — the sort of things often referred to as “hidden” taxes.

The Tea Party, as an example, supports only those candidates who they believe will do whatever is necessary to stop expanding government and its escalating costs. Results of recent elections would seem to indicate that such an agenda is gaining popularity.

So when voters in Fort Worth and Arlington showed up at the polls last week and overwhelmingly cast ballots approving higher taxes for a variety of things they want government to do, what are we to think of that?

Before I share my view of the answer to that question, let’s take a closer look at the several things they were asked to decide.

The one that got the most attention in news coverage and tended to dominate social media discussion was the Arlington school district’s proposal to arrange for an historic amount of borrowing to improve facilities and programs for the 65,000 students in the public school system.

In addition to the tax increase that would be necessary to fund the proposal, opponents had a field day with two other big targets to exploit.

First was their claim that approval would result in $1 billion of debt for taxpayers and the second was that it was on the ballot as an “all or nothing” proposal.

There were also plenty of things included in the package that the naysayers construed as either not needed or that would do no good. The familiar refrain of bureaucracy creating waste, too much government, and at too high a cost was heard over and over.

Yet, all that objection was drowned out when just shy of 70 percent of voters checked “yes” when decision day came around.

In the city election, more than 81 percent of voters turned down a chance to reduce their taxes, opting instead to repair streets. They’ve been saying yes every five years to that tax since 2002.

In Fort Worth, voters by an even larger majority of more than 84 percent also approved the continued collection of higher sales taxes to fight crime.

Finally, all seven of the proposals in that city’s bond election designed to improve everything from streets to animal care, were supported by majorities ranging from about 68 percent to more than 83 percent of voters.

While the city said it would attempt to manage the new expenditures without a tax increase, annual operating costs for the nearly $300 million in improvements certainly will result in government doing more and costing more.

So, how do we explain the behavior of voters saying yes to more government and higher taxes when every candidate is promising to oppose doing that?

Maybe the answer is more complicated than the obvious but I think we can keep the analysis simple.

It begins with a level of trust we have for those who represent us on school boards and city councils and extends to the professional management teams they have assembled to serve our needs.

Government closest to home provides us with a sense of empowerment that we don’t feel we have in Washington or Austin. We aren’t sure just what it is they are doing with our money and their power.

The focus on resolving local issues and concerns transcends political rhetoric. Voters here just reconfirmed that reality one more time.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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