Standard Disclaimer-The “Soapbox” is not intended to portray any official ECA position or opinion. Nor is it to be inferred that any ECA member shares the opinion stated in the Soapbox. The Soapbox is purely intended to be an Op-Ed piece done by John Bly each week to stimulate interest and thought on a wide range of topics.
I am going to write an opinion piece about being honest with the voters at the time the government asks you to vote to tax yourselves. It has as much to do with the idiotic estimates of the high-speed rail line (represented to voters to cost $33 billion to get voters to pass the bill) as it does with passing a school bond measure that School Boards and Trustees later negotiate to give all the work to union firms. My point is not against unions, it is against deception to the voters. I hope you do not think I am ranting against PLA’s because if you do think that after this, I have failed. I am taking the position that School Boards, our State, and others have a “playbook” that must read “the public is really stupid and cannot handle the truth-so let’s vote this tax measure in and we will let them know what is good for them”.
Several years ago, I was in a small room with labor representatives, elected officials, and a few other influencers in discussing a tax measure that was going to go out to the voters. From my perspective, it was a tax measure that would not pass if there was any substantive opposition raised by any special interest group, so we were trying to “hammer out” details that would appease (to the extent that none of our groups would oppose the tax measure) both sides that were trying to get the tax measure passed. Obviously, one “side” was labor, and one side was “business”.
One side of the room wanted very specific labor participation included in the language of the tax measure, and one side of the room did not want that. The discussion went something like this: “if you won’t agree to put that in the language now, we can just pass it as is and then negotiate the terms after the bill passes”. To my surprise, one well known elected official spoke up firmly and forcefully and said “Bull. We are not going to pass something that represents one thing to the voters and then negotiate behind closed doors some “sleight of hand” to get you what you want!”.
One small victory was realized. But the “playbook” still exists today. We saw it when the SRJC Trustees in 2014 supported and got passed a major tax measure that raised some $420 million for much needed improvements at the Santa Rosa Junior College campus. I asked Frank Chong at a public meeting “will they work have a PLA attached to it”? He responded publicly “No. PLA’s have not and are not being discussed as part of this bond measure”.
After the sales tax measure was passed, several “centrist” Trustees were defeated in an election, a manager was hired to manage the $420 million and that manager was a well-known PLA advocate that was hammering out the PLA before the Trustees even voted on whether to impose a PLA on the work. Elections were held, and to nobody’s surprise, PLA friendly Trustees were elected. Back room negotiations continued to take place and “lo and behold”, a PLA was placed on the $420 million worth of projects that was NEVER discussed with the voters.
So, you do not think my angst is simply focused on PLAs, because it is not, I would like to bring up another well-known lie that the government foisted upon the voters in California. And it has nothing to do with “labor issues”.
Governor Brown wanted to build a high-speed train to connect SF to LA. He and his advisers had no real estimate of costs, but they produced an estimate of $33 billion to build out the train system that would transport folks at 215 miles per hour from SF to LA. Wow-sounds so damn good.
Voters were told they could have a high-speed train from SF to LA for $33 billion and they voted for it. Needless to say, a very small segment is costing 3 times that amount and it does not come close to connecting SF to LA. More like possibly connecting Madera to Fresno for several hundred billion dollars. Did they know about the higher cost? Undoubtedly yes! The strategy was the proverbial “camel nose under the tent” whereby once the camel is allowed to sniff the food inside, you can forget about keeping the camel outside.
So why am I writing about this subject matter now? Because I am getting tired of voters being asked to vote for something that later gets negotiated into something completely different.
Last week, we saw the SR School Board debate imposing PLAs on their bond issued funds passed several years earlier (without any mention of imposing PLAs to the voters to get it passed). The “official play book” of get the tax measure passed then negotiate what we want behind closed doors is firmly in place. To read a little about it, here is a PD editorial written a few days before the School Board meeting which I watched last week. PD Editorial: Don’t tip the scale on school construction contracts (pressdemocrat.com)
So, what does this do to a “schmo” like me? I will tell you what it does.
When the hand-picked School Board votes in a few weeks to impose PLA’s, I will not be upset that a labor agreement is in place. I will be upset that they did not have the balls to inform the voters what it is they were actually voting on when the ballot came out. Tell us at the time that it is going to be a PLA imposed bond measure.
TELL US THE TRUTH-THE WHOLE TRUTH-AND LET US DECIDE HOW TO VOTE TO SPEND OUR TAX DOLLARS!!!
I say we can handle the truth. I hope I am correct. If Governor Brown had of been honest with us about the high-speed train cost, would anybody have voted for a $3 trillion price tag? I would guess not. But to put forth an intentionally low and wrong estimate of $33 billion price tag, is just plain wrong. If voters had been told that the SRJC needs new buildings and we want you to all pay sales tax for it, but that only signatory contractors will be allowed to bid on the work, would voters have passed the measure? I do not know, but I bet voters would have wanted to know that!
So, as we sit here and see the Federal “hang wringing” of an Infrastructure Bill that has a small percentage of it actually going towards infrastructure costs (and believe me both parties are to blame for passing this “turkey” of a bill), let’s actually make the politicians tell us what they are going to pass. I would have wanted to know that my vote was going to go for a congressman that backs voting on maternity leave before they vote to fix our roads, bridges and airports.
I know, I am preaching to the choir.
Can we handle the truth?
Lord I hope so—and I say we need to DEMAND it from now on.
That’s All Folks!