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GOLIS: The bumpy road to smaller government

By PETE GOLIS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Thanks to the Road Warrior blog at pressdemocrat.com, we learned last week that the group called Save Our Sonoma Roads wants to know how you would pay to repair the county’s rural roads. (Check out the survey at SOSRoads.org.)

You have to like SOSRoads. While other groups complain about the decline of government services, the people involved with SOSRoads organized to do something about it.

Pete Golis.

Pete Golis.

And who can blame them? The condition of country roads in Sonoma County is embarrassing — and the situation is only going to get worse. From damaged automobiles to the loss of tourism dollars, all kinds of negative consequences come into play when roads deteriorate.

We can round up the usual suspects — an antiquated tax system, shortsighted politicians, decades of neglect, higher costs, a recession.

When it would have mattered, almost nobody complained that government wasn’t taking care of streets, roads, highways and other public investments.

And so now we arrive at the intersection of declining tax revenues and old expectations about government’s promises to its citizenry.

When times were flush, critics say, government went on a spending binge that now limits its ability to honor its commitments — while coping with an economic recession and the budget shortfalls that came with it.

There is some truth to their complaint. But the question remains: Now what? When it comes to road maintenance, government may have abdicated its responsibility, but a recitation of past failures won’t cancel out the financial realities of today.

SOSRoads did manage to persuade the Board of Supervisors to come up with a few million one-time dollars more for road maintenance. But all sides recognize there is no silver bullet here. No one can explain where the county will find the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to restore 1,382 miles of county roads.

One study said it would cost $926 million over 10 years to modernize about half the county’s rural road system.

The SOSRoads survey offers up a laundry list of possible solutions — some realistic, some not. If you take the online survey, you can choose to increase road funding by:

Laying off 5 percent of the county workforce.

Reducing the compensation of county employees by 5 percent. (SOSRoads and county employees may not be best friends any time soon.)

Imposing a $20 fee on every vehicle in Sonoma County and using the money for city streets and county roads.

Increasing the hotel tax.

Extending the quarter-cent transportation sales tax and making most of the money available for county roads and city streets.

Establishing road maintenance districts that impose parcel taxes of $300 to $500 to repair and maintain roads in the areas served by the districts.

Everyone will find something not to like about these options. In that way, the road maintenance controversy serves as a microcosm of the push and shove of competing interests that every community faces in a time of government austerity.

Credit the authors of the survey for acknowledging that money doesn’t fall from the sky. Real solutions, as opposed to complaining and posturing, require us to choose among competing needs.

There will be no perfect solution. By trial and error, communities will do the best they can, cobbling together some combination of responses that involves compromise, sacrifice, innovation and concessions to a changed economic landscape.

In simple terms, government will learn to get by with less, and government will be smaller.

It would be helpful if state and local governments could re-invent themselves along the way. The consequences of smaller government would be less damaging if the sprawl of state and local agencies could consolidate services, cut red tape and eliminate redundancies.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to spin off some state responsibilities to local government may represent the first steps in this re-invention (though local agencies ought to worry they will be stuck with the obligations without the money necessary to pay the bills).

Over time, these reforms likely will occur, but the changes will be incremental — and slow. You may have noticed that government doesn’t do change very well. Always, there will be some group eager to oppose any assault on the status quo.

If you live on a rural road in Sonoma County, you will be disappointed by the suggestion here that government won’t be doing all that you expected it to do.

If it’s any consolation, you won’t be the only ones experiencing that disappointment.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.





13 Responses to “GOLIS: The bumpy road to smaller government”

  1. andrew simpson says:

    The County’s roads are a troubling symptom; as is its pensions mess; as is the billion dollar fraud now being mounted in the form of Sonoma Clean Power; as is the mistreatment of the rank and file County workers even while the bosses get huge compensation and benefits.
    What’s the cause?
    The County is run as a feudal principality. A few score campaign contributors and other nobles own the County. The County is run for their benefit. Certainly not for the public’s.
    The courtiers—the middle managers who do the nobles’ bidding—are the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The Supervisors are master of political theatre. They embrace the ceremony of public service while viewing the citizens and taxpayers as disenfranchised peasants. The peasants—the citizens–are a time wasting distraction to the Supervisors’ real mission: building up their own feudal estates (big benefits packages) even as they scramble for political and social advancement.
    The Supervisors have little real power; often less so than their subalterns: the Agency and department heads who are the real executors of the nobles’ wishes. For example, County Counsel’s job is to serve as a kind of court jester whose job preservation depends on making a mockery of honest governance by creating legal cover for the unethical and extra legal acts of the Supervisors and other agencies, particularly the Water Agency.
    The Water Agency– the feudal equivalent of the village tax collector who robs the poor to feed the rich– has a huge discretionary budget and serves as bursar for the County’s nobles who direct the Water Agency’s payments to the nobles’ friends and associates under the guise of rigged, no bid contracts. The Auditor Controller is the feudal equivalent of a corrupt sheriff, the supposed defender of public order. The Auditor Controller looks the other way while the nobles, their puppeted Supervisors, and the Agency heads steal the public blind.
    Might this be the cause of our roads, pensions and other symptoms?

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  2. andrew simpson says:

    The County’s roads are a troubling symptom; as is its pensions mess; as is the billion dollar fraud now being mounted in the form of Sonoma Clean Power; as is the mistreatment of the rank and file County workers even while the bosses get huge compensation and benefits.

    What’s the cause?

    The County is run as a feudal principality. A few score campaign contributors and other nobles own the County. The County is run for their benefit. Certainly not for the public’s.
    The courtiers—the middle managers who do the nobles’ bidding—are the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

    The Supervisors are master of political theatre. They embrace the ceremony of public service while viewing the citizens and taxpayers as disenfranchised peasants.

    The peasants—the citizens–are a time wasting distraction to the Supervisors’ real mission: building up their own feudal estates (big benefits packages) even as they scramble for political and social advancement.

    The Supervisors in fact have little real power; often less so than their subalterns: the Agency and department heads who are the real executors of the nobles’ wishes.

    For example, County Counsel’s job is to serve as a kind of court jester whose job preservation depends on making a mockery of honest governance by creating legal cover for the unethical and extra legal acts of the Supervisors and other agencies, particularly the Water Agency.

    The Water Agency– the feudal equivalent of the village tax collector who robs the poor to feed the rich– has a huge discretionary budget and serves as bursar for the County’s nobles who direct the Water Agency’s payments to the nobles’ friends and associates under the guise of rigged, no bid contracts.

    The Auditor Controller is the feudal equivalent of a corrupt sheriff, the supposed defender of public order. The Auditor Controller looks the other way while the nobles, their puppeted Supervisors, and the Agency heads steal the public blind.

    Might this be the cause of our roads, pensions and other symptoms?

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. James Bennett says:

    Here’s the real Plan.

    Crash the old.

    Usher in the new.

    Why does someone like me have to print a newspaper to inform about something that we should be sick of talking about by now?

    Why doesn’t our representation feel obligated to inform their constituents?

    Answer: because they no longer work for us…

    They work for THEM.

    http://thenorthbayindependent.org/

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  4. James Bennett says:

    I can ’round up the suspect’.

    UN Agenda 21 Sustainable Development.

    The 800 lb. gorilla in the room.

    As long as we are adherent to globalist ‘planning’ through ICLEI and these other treasonous Council Of Governments (COG; NGOs despite their names) there will always be lack and shortages for everything other than rail, Smart Growth, everything they dictate.

    Everything important to us will go without, or require our subsidizing, or be eliminated.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  5. Snarky says:

    Well, local government IS getting smaller by one employee.

    ANOTHER cop has just been arrested and being prosecuted for multiple sexual assaults of women between the ages of 21 and mid 40′s WHILE IN UNIFORM.

    http://www.sacbee.com/2013/02/26/5217157/police-officer-sergio-alvarez.html#disqus_thread

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

  6. Jorge Soto says:

    Steve, yes they are enamored with the European model, it is tavistock. Here is a view into one of there thinktanks, and it just so happens to include pay toll roads, LETS NOT!

    Institute For The Future
    This is not a typical Tavistock institution in that it is funded by the Ford Foundation, yet it draws its long-range forecasting from the mother of all think tanks. Institute for the Future projects what it believes to be changes that will be taking place in time frames of fifty years. So called “DELPHI PANELS” decide what is normal and what is not, and prepare position papers to “steer” government in the right direction to head off such groups as “people creating civil disorder.” (This could be patriotic groups demanding abolition of graduated taxes, or demanding that their right to bear arms is not infringed.) This institute recommends action such as liberalizing abortion laws, drug usage and that cars entering an urban area pay tolls, teaching birth control in public schools, requiring registration of firearms, making use of drugs a non-criminal offense, legalizing homosexuality, paying students for scholastic achievements, making zoning controls a preserve of the state, offering bonuses for family planning and last, but most frightening, a Pol Pot Cambodia-style proposal that new communities be established in rural areas, (concentration camp compounds). As can be observed, many of their goals have already been more than fully realized.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  7. j galt says:

    When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny! ~ Thomas Jefferson.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

  8. Jorge Soto says:

    This is NOT a local issue.
    It is a managed happening across the entire country. It is called The Rewilding of America (The Wildlands Project).

    More taxes WILL NT FIX IT. Rural roads and landowners will eventually be REMOVED.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  9. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    I think the gas tax should be progressive. The lower miles per gallon your vehicle gets, the higher the tax should be. This would be a resource waste tax. And of course, there will be exceptions.

    When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat. ~Ronald Reagan

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 20

  10. Reality Check says:

    The tax on gasoline may not be a perfect tax, but it approximates one’s use of our roads. True, it worked better before hybrid and electric vehicles. Still, it beats other proposals that would end any connection to the principle of user pays.

    Unfortunately, the user pays principle has been muddied when governments use the money from gas taxes and bridge tolls to fund things unrelated to why the tax or toll was collected. This makes it easier to oppose an increase in the gas tax. “Heck, the money will just be used to subsidize empty buses.”

    So, our roads deteriorate. And anyone who proposes an equitable solution stands no chance of being elected to anything.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 4

  11. Fiscal Conservative says:

    I agree there is a huge problem with the infrastructure in Sonoma County, but I do not
    agree with opinions for the financial cause as stated by the articles author.

    Mr. Golis states: ( the problems are due to) An antiquated tax system, ( should we pay
    even more?) short sided politicians,( the progressives supported by the P.D.) decades of
    neglect,( same politicians) higher costs( inflation) and a recession (more like a depression).

    I see the facts differently. I see the $1.6 Billion dollars of debt in Sonoma County for the
    defined benefit pension plan for Sonoma County employees as No.1 on the list of causes.
    In fact, our County sold bonds intended for infrastructure replacement and used the money
    on the pension. This same pension was found to be illegal by a Sonoma County Grand
    Jury. The priorities, in my opinion, are one ended and selfish. The health and safety of our
    Citizens come before illegal pensions, and the subsequent political contributions by unions
    that come with the pension scheme.

    To back up these opinions, one just needs to click on the “Pensions” button on the
    navigation bar in this site.

    In my opinion, the decisions to turn off street lights at busy intersections, the decisions not
    to replace the stripping on roads and the decisions not to surface failing pavement are
    criminal, when accidents occur, that injure,kill or cause property damage.
    Those responsible for such decisions, elected officials who vote on the funding and those
    who hold professional licenses, should face a judge and jury.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 7

  12. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    How about laying off 5% of the management? THERE’S WHERE THE PUBLIC’S TAX MONEY IS GOING! Remember we need the road crew workers whose numbers have been halved over the years. I’ll bet all the managers are still there though collecting their large checks and perks at the expense of the public and the rank and file who are the ones who PROVIDE SERVICES FOR THE PUBLIC.

    This is a pattern in this county. Culling and cutting the real workers who provide services to the public and ADDING MORE MANAGEMENT. This has to stop. VERY EXPENSIVE Contracting out Queen Bee Zane and her sidekick Rabbitt are very busy okaying everything that the managers bring to them. More and more managers every month, fewer and fewer rank and file. The public needs to demand from their BOS member to stop hiring managers and provide more, CHEAPER, rank and file workers to provide valuable public services. An initiative will be in the works to MAKE this county change its management to staff ratio. Look for the petition and sign it! We could use one for all California governments. If we want better quality public services then we need workers not more expensive high pension managers.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 6

  13. steve wiessler says:

    Mr. Golis, The current administration is enamored of the
    European government model. Let’s finance roads the European
    way. Why not tolls on main thoroughfares? Road users will
    finance roads, the stops could be utilized to check for non-
    registered vehicles, etc;

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 17

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