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VENTURA COUNTY PERSPECTIVE | SECOND OPINION

Loss of Gas Tax Would Weaken Police Efforts

Proponents of a cut fail to mention that nearly 50 cents of every dollar collected returns to the community as funding for local law enforcement.

September 17, 2000|JONATHAN SHARKEY | Jonathan Sharkey is a member of the Port Hueneme City Council

In Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge, when confronted by Marley's ghost, tries to dismiss the apparition of his late partner as a bad dream caused by indigestion--perhaps from the "greasy soup" the old man had for dinner. As we all know, such shadows are not so easily dismissed.

In the debate over the gasoline sales tax there also lurks a specter whose influence will not be diminished by merely ignoring its existence. That is the necessity we have to provide essential services to our communities, to do the things that protect public safety, preserve property values and promote the well-being of all the people in our neighborhoods.

What proponents of this particular tax cut fail to mention is that nearly 50 cents of every dollar collected returns to the community as funding for local law enforcement. For those of us in small cities, loss of this money would be a devastating blow to our efforts to maintain our local police departments.

Of course, there is the promise of "backfill," which means quite simply that even more of our local budget would fall under the tender mercies of the folks in Sacramento. Is there anyone who witnessed the concluding scramble of this past legislative session who would be willing to trust the safety of their neighborhood to the clowns in the Sacramento circus?

It would be nothing less than irresponsible to cut the taxes that support our communities without considering the fundamental structural reforms that would make such cuts workable. Of course, such reforms are difficult to craft. Many have fallen to ruin attempting to scale those treacherous heights. How much easier it is to simply talk about a tax cut!

Too much of the Sacramento leadership in both parties not only lacks any local experience, it is downright hostile to the interests of people at the local level. Is it any wonder that the knowledge, courage and capacity to effect meaningful reform is lacking?

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In another age, President John F. Kennedy challenged a generation by asserting that "we chose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Have we come so far in 40 years that the difficult is ignored in favor of the merely facile? Will we ignore the essential and exalt the expedient? Will we finally face the structural problems confronting us in California and begin the difficult task of restoring the foundations of our community?

Scrooge's apparitions would not be ignored or dismissed. In the end, he was a better man for having faced his ghosts and learned the lessons they had to teach. "Say it is not yet too late!" he cried when confronted with his own dismal end.

It is not yet too late for us either, but we must be willing to do the real work necessary to provide stability at all levels. Simplistic, ill-conceived Christmas presents like the gas tax cut won't get us to that bright morning where we wake up with a new attitude and a new life.

Wouldn't it have been a tragedy if Scrooge had ignored his ghosts, rolled over and gone back to sleep only to resume business as usual?

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