My Turn: Missing the point on direct democracy
January 10, 2006
The My Turn column “Where would property taxes be without initiative process?” (Sierra Sun Jan. 6) misses several points Supervisor Ted Owens made in his column (“Direct democracy: Good, bad or ugly?” Sierra Sun Dec. 23, 2005) and attempts to make the issue partisan. It is anything but a liberal vs. conservative issue. It is one of dysfunctional governance. The writer claimed that Supervisor Owens to “feel the voters are too dumb to cast an informed vote.” As I reread the original column, nothing of the sort was stated nor implied, thus my motivation to respond.The point the writer clearly missed was; are we the voters able to receive adequate information to cast the informed votes we wish? Owens asserts the answer to be no. I agree with him.As a former Town of Truckee council member, I will tell you agenda reading material is measured by the pound, not the page. Local issues pale by magnitude compared to constitutional amendments and yet one can obtain more information on a local road improvement project than on any proposition. The point was that initiatives fall far short of enabling us to render wise decision making when sold as television commercials or, as Owens pointed out, as editorialized newsprint.The writer, a Realtor, instead focuses on Proposition 13 passed in 1978. I don’t disagree with the significance he cites. Property taxes were determined locally prior to the enactment of Prop 13 and out of control. Owens used the example to make a point about “unintended consequences,” and Prop. 13 definitely has them. City councils and county governments struggle to repair roads, maintain public safety and other basic expected government services. If I recall correctly, Truckee receives 14 cents out of each “local” property tax dollar, the state takes the rest. Unlike Truckee, many local governments, in an effort to make up the difference, have resorted to encouraging “big box” development (Costco, Home Depot, auto malls, etc.). Look at the central valley.Prior to Prop 13 propositions were typically born out of public motivation. If I understand Mr. Owens’ article, the difference today is many are developed by single-focused interest groups who in turn contract with big public relation firms. Certainly the writer knows that the folks collecting signatures for ballot initiatives are paid employees, not heartfelt motivated citizens as in the past. Perhaps this is evidence for the ramped-up use of direct democracy as governance instead of a tool to correct the legislature.Owens’ concern that the current situation cannot endure I agree with. Part of the state’s structural deficit debacle is rooted in the fact that more money is required by law or mandate (propositions enacted) outpaces tax revenues anticipated. Is that considered as we are asked to vote for the latest and greatest proposition? Often not.I do disagree with the supervisor in that unwinding the clock and doing away with propositions is not the answer. However, he is correct insofar as the current arrangement may well prove disastrous. Modifications are necessary, and sooner rather than later.Ron Florian is a business owner and former Truckee town councilman. ‘My Turn’ is a guest column open to readers of the Sierra Sun. Send submissions of 500700 words to email@example.com.