General diatribe on the state of the state

By Paul DeMarco, Petaluma

I've been absurdly busy lately, but I did catch up a little on my favorite web journal today. "Behind the Curve" was great.

The land use issue reminds me of an editorial I read several years ago from one of the Sacto Bee columnists. It was about the effects of the tax structure upon development. Because sales tax goes back to the municipalities and property tax stays with the state (I know it's not that simple, but good enough for this purpose), cities are in deep competition for big box retail and auto dealerships. When Rohnert Park sucked the shoppers down there, Santa Rosa responded by blighting Santa Rosa Av. with a traffic-freezing series of haphazard big stores--probably annexing rural land in the process--to bring those sales tax dollars back in. As long as the taxes are structured this way, this will always happen.

On a broader note, I spent 12 hours on Tuesday at a retreat listening to four subject experts on the arts, health & human services, the environment and education. In all fields, in gory detail in each one, we heard how the sharp cut in or total absence of public funds has had very bad effects that philanthropy can't cure. This ridiculous state of public affairs is not the case in all states. It's the case in a state that is seeing the long-term effect of Prop 13. That things is still considered a sacred cow rather than an unholy monster. If ever there needs to be an effort from Don Quixote, in a last and long-term effort to save the state, the evils of Prop 13 needs to be understood. I know that its partner is the ridiculous growth in population so greedily encouraged by those who profit from it, but at this point we could have 5 million fewer people here and the
paralysis in public policy would still prevail.

I like my low property tax. The fact that a new buyer next door would pay 3 times as much in property tax as I do wouldn't bother my conscience. But I don't like being 51st (after even D.C.) in certain measures of schoolspending. I don't like that Alabama spends $3 per citizen on the arts each year while we spend 3 cents. I don't like to see the state park system stripped down where it can't maintain what it's got, nor acquire
anything new. I don't like having some of the worst roads in the nation. I don't like knowing that too many kids don't have health insurance, that there's no significant money for prevention of alcohol and drug abuse, or that the only thing the county spends money on is law enforcement. I don't like a tax structure that enriches the landed elite like some 17th century French province.

I suppose it's all going to hell--to a breakdown that will shock us, and throw us back on to whatever skills and resources we have managed to accumulate in our years. Maybe that's already written into the plot. But until that happens, maybe we can hone our lance on another windmill.