Thursday, March 10, 2011

Democracy is Nothing Short of Tyranny

Opening my paper this morning was no simple task, as I am still recovering from saluting Lex and killing my liver in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Wisconsin. Fortunately, the Register Guard apparently has a policy whereby anyone who can string 1000 words together gets to be published in the paper. Nothing helps this cynic's headache like a batshit editorial in the local paper.

Thank Jeebus for Laura Cooper.

Eugene income tax for schools is both unfair and unwise
It starts out promising:
It’s a lesson we all supposedly learned as children: The end can’t justify the means.
I'm not sure if this something we all supposedly learned as children. Don't eat the paste. Play nice with others. Always put your name at the top of the paper because your teacher can't know who wrote it if there's no name at the top of the page. These are the things I learned as a child. I'm not sure if I missed the day my class tackled complex philosophical arguments and came to definite conclusions on them, but then I was sick a lot, so it's completely possible.

But accepting the premise, what does this have to do with anything?
School funding is a noble and necessary end; however, the means chosen for this mission by the Eugene City Council in its income tax proposal are nothing short of tyranny as our forefathers understood, and for that reason the proposal must be defeated.
Tyranny! Nothing short of tyranny!! The kind of tyranny our forefathers faced!!! Do you think she wanted to go with Founding Fathers, but backed off because she realized that no, nothing she is about to write about has anything to do with the founding of this country? I don't know, but "forefathers" it is.

What tyranny do we Eugeneians face Laura Cooper?
As is predictable, proponents provide nothing beyond the same old arguments about taxes “boosting” the local economy without bothering to evaluate the very real impact of additional taxes on an already struggling economy — completely discounting or ignoring the impact on already overburdened local taxpayers.
Okay, but what about the tyranny? You promised me tyranny, dammit.
Nobody disputes the value of a high-quality education. The problem is that few supporters of this proposal can argue much past “it’s for the children” and focus on the horrendous details of the actual proposal.
Ok, horrendous details. Let's have 'em. And I'm still waiting on that tyranny.
Nothing in the proponents’ arguments addresses the prospect of an offset of collected taxes against equalization revenues from the state, addresses the authority of one government jurisdiction to levy taxes for another, or explains how this could possibly be a “temporary” measure when the structural problem that has caused it to occur remains unsolved.
No details. No tyranny.
In Oregon, schools are funded locally through property taxes, but Measure 5, approved by the voters in 1990, placed strict limits on those taxes. Instead, this proposal is a blatant attempt by the city of Eugene to evade Measure 5 and constitutes double taxation on Eugene residents who have already funded schools through their state income taxes.
Double taxation! Heavens. But wait. I fund schools through my local property tax and through my state income taxes?! Holy fuck, I'm already being double taxed. This would be triple taxation! Or quadruple, if you want to throw the feds in the mix. And I do!
Under Oregon’s Constitution, the state Legislature is tasked with funding schools using state taxes. Why not hold our Legislature accountable? Instead, the city simply wants Eugene voters to pay twice — even though the funds raised could well be deducted by the state Legislature in its own equalization distributions (resulting in no net benefit at all).

Given that Measures 66 and 67 were proposed last year as the solution to the very same underfunding problem, what assurances can voters be given that the current proposal will in fact be the real and final solution? Unfortunately, none — precisely because this “solution” is not even within the jurisdiction of its proponents.
This doesn't make a lot of sense. And by that I mean it's not very well written. I get that Cooper doesn't like the tax, but by this point I feel a bit Milhouse over here. When are they going to get to the fireworks factory?

Oh wait, here we go.
Nor is that simply a technical problem. Instead, the jurisdictional issue strikes at the very heart of fairness and accountability, and demonstrates that the proposal is blatantly unconstitutional and irresponsible. This proposal is a fundamental mismatch between taxing authority and spending goals, and the consequence is a basic lack of both due process and equal protection.
I should mention here that Laura Cooper is an attorney, so when she says something is "blatantly unconstitutional" I have every reason to believe that she knows what she's talking about. And while blatantly unconstitutional is not exactly tyranny, I've perked back up. Due process, equal protection. Those are concepts I know. Let's do this thing.
Here’s why: The jurisdiction of the city of Eugene extends only to the contiguous city limits, and thus the tax would affect all people who reside within those city limits and file state tax returns. By contrast, school district boundaries extend well beyond those city limits. What that means is that families that reside within the boundaries of the school district but outside the city limits would be exempted from paying the proposed tax because the city cannot exercise its jurisdiction over them. that really what "due process" and "equal protection" mean? Some people wouldn't have to pay taxes that they don't get to vote on, but they get the benefits? I'm not sure those words mean what she thinks they mean.

Thus, River Road-area neighbors who live on either side of city boundaries and send children to the very same schools will be treated completely differently with respect to this tax, simply by virtue of their residences being on opposite sides of the city limits.

The class of persons paying the tax bears no rational relationship to the class of persons benefiting from it.

In addition to being blatantly unfair, the proposal is also unwise.

We've walked back "nothing short of tyranny" and "blatantly unconstitutional" to "unfair" and "unwise." Yes, Johnny, there are times when I feel as if I have been cheated. This happens to be one of them.

Laura gives us some more nattering, but to be honest, I've lost interest now that I've realized that there will be no tyranny forthcoming. Read if you must, I only post it to be fair.

School district governing bodies are neither accountable to nor legally subordinated in any way to the city of Eugene, or vice versa. The city cannot dictate to the schools, or vice versa, and thus there is no procedure whereby the city can adequately oversee or monitor accountability for the funds it raises for the schools: it lacks basic authority to acquire information to enable it to determine the appropriate level or use of the taxes it seeks to impose.

As a practical matter, then, the Eugene City Council can provide no assurances that this new funding stream will correct or even address any of the underlying problems for which it is being proposed. In short, it cannot enforceably condition the funds on anything. For example, it cannot address the systemic problems creating the shortfall: It cannot require the school district to cut administrative overhead or renegotiate pension deals with the dollars that it directs toward the schools. Funding with no accountability is a direct ticket to waste, fraud and abuse.

She does finish nice though.
Means matter. What’s next? If the city’s power to levy taxes can be used to fund anything the City Council desires, what is to stop it from collecting taxes for world peace? This proposal must be defeated.
Exactly. If the City Council can propose a 1% income tax with the funds directed to schools, put it on the ballot, and have a majority of citizens vote to pay higher taxes, then where does the madness end?

It ends in tyranny, that's where it ends.

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