Since I'm a Democrat, most conservatives would say that I favor big government. But that's only partially true.
I'll all for big government doing big things for the general public. However, when government wants more money to do things that don't make sense, I'm opposed to that -- as most people are.
That's why two recent stories in the Salem Reporter and Statesman Journal made me wonder, What are the folks at City Hall doing? This seems more than a little crazy.
The April 6 Salem Reporter story is titled "City looks to boost fee and tax collections by millions to fund expansion." It says that the City of Salem is considering raising taxes and fees by about $25 million a year.
The city of Salem is considering increasing fees on 70,000 residents and businesses and imposing a new payroll tax on workers to address what officials say is a budget deficit set to drain the general fund in less than two years.
Without more tax revenue, the city may “not be able to continue providing essential city services” including current police and fire staffing, according to a staff report.
The staff report describes the need for at least $25 million more per year. That would cover costs for some current city services but also expand them, such as adding community policing and funding staffing for a new fire station.
The move to hike city revenue comes five months after Salem voters approved a $300 million bond to be repaid by local property taxes.
...The city’s general fund pays for most core city services, including police and fire, parks and recreation, the library, code enforcement, land use planning, social services and the municipal court. City councilors also dip into the general fund for projects, like the $2.4 million transfer for Salem Municipal Airport improvements they approved in January.
Hopefully the City Council will take a close look at this proposal. Maybe the fee and tax increase is justified, but maybe it isn't.
I have trouble believing that the City of Salem is using all of the money it currently has wisely -- especially in the areas of police and fire, since those departments suck up most of the general fund money that the $25 million supposedly needs to supplement.
A key question that needs to be asked of City Manager Stahley is why, given that the economy of Salem, Oregon, and the nation is humming along nicely (the Federal Reserve is trying to slow down the economy, not speed it up), how is it that a $25 million tax increase is needed at this time?
Of course, Salem doesn't have a city income tax, and property taxes are limited to an increase of 3% a year, basically.
So in a time of high inflation, it's easy to see why the City budget is strained. I just would like to see evidence that efficiencies in that budget have been seriously considered and found to be impossible to achieve.
One obvious place to look for saving money, other than the police and fire departments, is the subject of the Statesman Journal story by Whitney Woodworth, "On the agenda: Salem City Council closer to allowing commercial flights at McNary Field."
Council is set to vote Monday on whether to authorize the city manager to execute air carrier operating and revenue guarantee agreements with an airline and a local matching funds agreement with Travel Salem.
The name of the air carrier is redacted in city documents as part of a nondisclosure clause, but the agreement specifies the airline serves the Los Angeles basin, San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
The agreement states the airline would schedule a minimum of two weekly flights.
Wow. Two weekly flights. And the City of Salem has taken $2.4 million from the general fund for airport improvements needed for commercial air service, as noted in the Salem Reporter story.
That's not all of the subsidy being given to a still-unnamed airline. The airline is getting a price break on fuel flowage from 8 cents a gallon to 6 cents; it won't pay landing fees for two years; and there's a guarantee that the airline will earn a minimum amount on flights out of Salem or it gets $1.2 million from the City of Salem.
Now I'm really not going to sound like a Democrat.
I can understand government subsidies for an untested product or service that will provide an important public benefit, but commercial air travel certainly isn't untested and it is highly questionable that the public will benefit from being able to take a minimum of two flights a week out of Salem, especially since air travel is a large contributor to global warming.
I'll also bring up the "economy is humming along nicely" argument again. In this case, the City of Salem is having to significantly subsidize the operations of an unnamed airline in order to entice it to offer commercial air service here during a strong economy.
So what happens when the next recession happens? Business travel will plummet. So will vacation travel. If an airline can't operate in Salem now without a subsidy from the City of Salem, how big will the payout from City coffers have to be when the economy tanks?
It appears that the City Council has bought off on trying to bring commercial air travel back to Salem. That's unfortunate, given that city officials are wanting $25 million in fee and tax increases, and the airline subsidy will lead citizens to think, "Why are you giving so much money to the airline if there isn't enough money to pay for essential city services?"