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Ventura County Perspective

Plan to Cut Gas Tax Is Shortsighted Pandering

This tariff and others indeed should be reduced, but only as part of a comprehensive strategy--not grandstanding by assemblymen.

March 26, 2000|JONATHAN SHARKEY | Jonathan Sharkey is a member of the Port Hueneme City Council

Former presidential candidate Paul Tsongas used to present a small teddy bear to the opponent who showed the greatest alacrity in sacrificing policy for expediency. The "Pander Bear" is in no danger of making the endangered species list--not while it has such redoubtable defenders as Tom McClintock and Tony Strickland.

With the breathtaking ability to think things through all the way to Step One, these two state Assembly members have sought to capitalize on the current spike in gasoline prices by reviving their failed proposal to repeal the gasoline sales tax.

Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) staged a brilliant Kodak moment when he passed out dollar bills to voters at a local gas station last week. He forgot to mention to the recipients of his largess that about 50 cents of every dollar being placed in their hands would be taken, under his proposal, from the pockets of their local law enforcement agency--the very impediment that caused the tax cut juggernaut to sputter to a stop the last time our intrepid Assembly members tried to drive it home.

Of course Strickland and McClintock (R-Northridge) have a plan to solve this problem: Just take enough money out of the state general fund to make up the difference. Sounds simple enough, but as H.L. Mencken observed, "For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, obvious and wrong."

Let's help Strickland and McClintock think this through to Step Two. So-called "back filling" by Sacramento would only serve to put your local police budget at the mercy of those well-meaning folks in the state Legislature. Anybody remember the Education Reserve Augmentation Fund (ERAF) tax shift money that has clobbered our library system?

Can we afford to cut the gas tax, the income tax or any number of other state taxes and fees? Yes, of course, but only as part of a comprehensive financial restructuring package. California's fiscal structure is much like the Winchester Mystery House. Our legislators keep tacking on various provisions and exemptions until you have a building with stairs that go nowhere and doors that open to brick walls.

Coming from a city that spends more than half of its operating budget on the police department, I get very nervous when a couple of Sacramento boys threaten to control even more of our local money. We've got to get away from mere crisis response and begin thinking about systematic reforms that will provide stability both at the local and state levels.

This means changing the way we look at property tax, sales tax and income tax--which may prove too difficult for our incumbent assemblymen to attempt. It's far easier to flash the old Chicago bankroll and divert attention from challenging realities.

Such may be soup du jour for Pander Bears, but the people of California hunger for more substantial stuff.

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