Yeah, I admit it. The title of this post arguably is citizen activism clickbait.
I want to grab the attention of voters here in Salem, because it is really important that the issue on the November 2015 ballot -- whether to pass a small payroll tax to fund much-needed improvements to this town's Cherriots bus system -- PASS.
Hopefully I'm using my godfather's name not in vain. Here's my baptism certificate, for anyone who doubts my Catholic pedigree.
If some people decide to vote "Yes" on the payroll tax as a result of this endorsement from Conrad Hilton's godson, it's worth throwing around the name of my famous relative.
(I'm also Paris Hilton's second cousin. But I'm prouder of my familial connection with Conrad, than with Paris.)
What led me to bring up hotelman Conrad Hilton -- he was my mother's uncle, and my grandmother's brother -- was how disturbed I was by how the Salem Chamber of Commerce representative in today's City Club debate about the mass transit payroll tax made businesspeople look extremely selfish.
T.J. Sullivan was that guy.
His basic message was: "Taxes are bad. Businesses already are taxed too heavily. Salem businesses can't handle another one, even a payroll tax of 1/5 of a percent. If the Cherriots folks can't show how evening and weekend bus service will generate more profits for Salem businesses, we can't support a payroll tax."
Sullivan's lack of compassion for people who don't have a car, by necessity or choice, and need to get around by bus was astounding. The Chamber of Commerce party line was all about me, me, me -- the "me" being the narrow financial interest of businesses.
There was very little, maybe no, talk on Sullivan's part about the need to better serve citizens of Salem: the poor, the handicapped, those employed in low wage jobs who have to work nights and weekends, young people, old people who can't drive any more.
This is so far removed from how I remember Uncle Connie, as I called Conrad Hilton during my youth, viewing the responsibilities of businesspeople.
Several times a year my mother would drive her and me down from central California, where we lived, to Bel Air (near Beverly Hills), where Conrad Hilton lived. So from about age 7 to 17 I was able to hang around with my adult relatives as they conversed with Uncle Connie.
Naturally much of that talk went over my head, especially in my younger years. There was talk of hotel acquisitions and openings. There was talk of relationships; my godfather was quite the ladies man, a situation complicated by his devout Catholicism.
What there wasn't talk of was how business people owed nothing to their community, unless it helped them make more money. Nor was there talk of how taxes are bad, to be avoided at all costs.
I started spending time with Uncle Connie in the mid-1950s. Back then taxes were way higher than they are now. The top income tax rate in 1956 was 90%!
Yet T.J. Sullivan kept telling the City Club audience that if Salem businesses had to pay an extra dollar on every $500 of payroll -- the .21% mass transit payroll tax -- it would be freaking disastrous.
Well, somehow in the 1950s, along with before and after, businesspeople in the United States were able to make a shitload of money when taxes were much higher than they are now. And some people, like Conrad Hilton, were able to make a super-shitload of money.
(Note: my godfather left me exactly nothing in his will. He loaned me some money to start a health store business while I was in college. But Uncle Connie got every dime of the loan back. Sadly, I didn't even get a free pass to Hilton Hotels when he died. So scammers can hold off on emailing me.)
I have little doubt that my godfather would have been aghast to hear all of the Chamber of Commerce talk at today's City Club debate about how it is unfair for businesses to fork out 1/5 of one percent of payroll to improve bus service in Salem.
What I most remember about Conrad Hilton, Uncle Connie, is that he was a good man. Sure, a great businessman. But first and foremost a good man.
Those were the days when conservatives weren't infected with today's Tea Party virus.
Aside from my godfather, I grew up in a family with other successful businessmen -- my grandfather and uncle ran a large materials handling/lift truck company that I was supposed to take over, as the oldest male heir, until I went rogue and got a psychology degree from San Jose State College instead of a business degree from Dartmouth.
Taxes weren't evil back then. My hugely Republican relatives rarely, if ever, complained about paying their fair share.
Like I said, somehow they could make good money while paying high taxes -- while here in Salem the Chamber of Commerce is bemoaning a very small mass transit payroll tax that is less than one-third what businesses in Portland and Eugene pay.
So I'm channeling my godfather.
I hear Conrad Hilton saying, "Good grief -- pass the damn payroll tax. If it benefits the Salem community, that's a good thing. Businesspeople aren't just takers; they also are givers. Taxes are a way of giving back to the people who make businesses profitable. Any business who goes broke because of a tiny .21 percent payroll tax, $210 on a $100,000 payroll, can't blame that on the tax."
Vote YES on Ballot Measure 24-388, the payroll tax.