Tomorrow is the one week anniversary of last Tuesday's disappointing defeat of the small (.21%) payroll tax that would have paid for much-needed improvements to Salem's behind-the-times Cherriots bus system -- which lacks late evening and weekend service.
Cherriots faces some tough choices now. As do others in this town who care, or claim to care, about creating viable, appealing, modern mass transit options in Salem.
Two recent letters to the editor in the Statesman Journal did a good job of summing up the situation.
Defeat of transit tax ruined Salem's chance to shine
What a sad day for Salem.
Salem-Keizer Transit General Manager Allan Pollock’s comment, “This sucks,” in response to the failure of Measure 24-388, is an understatement. The fact that the Salem Hospital spent $50,000 in fighting the measure — the same amount that Cherriots gave it to improve transportation — is unconscionable.
To the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, businesses that fought against the measure and those who voted against the tax, shame on you. You had an opportunity to improve the lives of those with limited transportation options economically, educationally and socially and with an overall positive impact on the city.
This was a chance for Salem to shine and you blew it.
When will those opposed to transit tax step up with solution?
Now that 21 percent of the eligible voters in the Salem-Keizer area have voted against expanding our city’s bus services, we are left wondering what this vote reflects:
• The desire to ensure that Oregon’s capital continues to have no late-night, weekend or holiday bus service?
• A rejection of the concept that students, the disabled and the working poor should have someone else assist them to afford public transportation?
• Or maybe just support for our business community (which spent heavily to defeat the measure), believing they alone should not shoulder the cost?
Whatever the reasons, we now await what positive actions the measure’s opponents will take to help meet our community’s unmet transportation needs.
Who — Salem Hospital, large business leaders, small business owners — will make the first call to Cherriots’ volunteer board and supporters who have struggled year-after-year to define and tap our community’s sense of community, offering to work with instead of against, to find community solutions to our community need?
We wait by the phone, looking forward to your call.
Both letters speak the truth. The Chamber of Commerce and other opponents of the mass transit payroll tax did indeed blow it.
Members of the Cherriots Board of Directors met four times with leaders of the Salem Chamber of Commerce prior to deciding to put a payroll tax on the ballot. The Chamber rejected this attempt to collaborate on finding a way to pay for evening and weekend bus service.
So the question asked by letter writer Dalton -- who will now work to find community solutions to our community need? -- almost certainly isn't the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber had its chance to work together with Cherriots and said "no way."
Thus here's my three-part advice to the Cherriots Board:
(1) Don't expect the Chamber of Commerce to change its anti-tax philosophy. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that the Chamber, along with Salem's right-wing Mayor and City Council majority, want this town to be the Mississippi of the Willamette Valley.
Meaning, a conservative outlier among cities that lean liberal: Portland, Corvallis, Eugene. This takes deception, since Salem also is a liberal town. In general elections such is evident. In off-year and primary elections marked by low voter turnout, such as last Tuesday's election, it isn't.
Just because most of our local Chamber of Commerce leaders and elected City officials seem like moderates, doesn't mean they are.
Actually they are just as Tea Party'ish as other right-wing ideologues in Congress and elsewhere. They don't like taxes and government, except when government funnels tax dollars to business special interests. Further, our local right-wingers tend to be anti-environment global warming deniers.
So it's wishful thinking to believe that suddenly Chamber of Commerce leaders are going to turn into avid mass transit supporters who will back a new funding source for Cherriots.
(Their claim that Oregon Lottery funds can be tapped for Cherriots operating expenses is ludicrous; I give this a 5% chance of succeeding, at best.)
(2) Cherriots needs to stay true to mass transit values, which are shared by most people in Salem. As the letter writer said, a small minority of Salem voters decided this off-year election. If the payroll tax had been voted on in November 2016, when the turnout will be much higher, the outcome might well have been a "yes" majority.
Right-wingers try to maintain control in Salem by pumping a lot of money into low-turnout elections. The mayoral and city council races usually are decided in a May primary. This produces a divisive situation: a liberal town being led by conservatives who got into office via special interest money, which makes them beholden to those same special interests.
Cherriots, as a mass transit agency, should stay true to its values.
Environmentalism. Social equity. Compassion for the elderly, infirm, and those carless by necessity or choice. Just because a fifth of Salem registered voters turned down a mass transit payroll tax doesn't mean Cherriots should jump into the political arms of the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Most people in Salem, and most voters in Salem, don't share the Chamber's values.
They want taxes to be used to provide necessary services to our community. They want carbon emissions lowered through the wise use of mass transit and other means. They want the rich and powerful in this town to pay their fair share for community improvements.
(3) Cherriots should play hardball with the Chamber of Commerce, just as the Chamber does. I'm a proud progressive/liberal who was raised by a fervent Republican mother. Having grown up reading National Review and thrilling to the words of William F. Buckley, I understand the appeal of genuine conservatism.
But that isn't what is being peddled by the Salem Chamber of Commerce. Over the years conservatism in this country has hardened into a rigid doctrinaire anti-tax anti-government fundamentalism that isn't interested in compromise or collaboration.
So, Cherriots board members, there is little chance that the Chamber is going to play nice with you now that the payroll tax has been defeated.
What Chamber officials will try to do is bring you into their fold, hoping to buy you off with lofty impractical promises that their lobbying team will be able to find a mythical non-tax Pot of Gold that will pay for evening and weekend bus service.
If Cherriots goes along with this game, you'll lose the trust and respect of the people you need the most: Salem's liberal-leaning voters.
I urge you to play hardball with the Chamber, just as they did with you in the recent election. However, the Chamber spread falsities and half-truths about the payroll tax. The Cherriots board should be more ethical, while just as tough.
Tell the Chamber of Commerce that you're reconsidering your support for the Third Bridge. My understanding is that if Cherriots rescinds this support, the Third Bridge can't move forward. Which it shouldn't, being an unneeded billion dollar disaster in the making.
Most Salem voters would respect you for this. You will have taken a stand for fiscal responsibility and protecting our planet. The Third Bridge would be a major contributor to increased carbon emissions, sprawl, and environmental degradation.
Salem's mass transit agency shouldn't be supporting these negative effects. Go all in on mass transit values and good things will happen. Of course, maybe you still won't be able to find funding for evening and weekend bus service.
But it would be better to take a firm stand for what's right for Salem, instead of compromising Cherriots values in a fruitless attempt to make friends with the Chamber of Commerce which, believe me, isn't your friend. Nor the friend of most people in Salem.