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A Grin at the End: Truisms for the political season truism

By Carl Sampson
It’s political season. We have gubernatorial groupies to the right of us, senatorial sycophants to the left of us, mayoral wannabes in front of us and city council candidates behind us.

Don’t expect me to endorse one or the other. I subscribe to the political truism that no candidate is either as good as his supporters advocate or as bad as his opponents say.

Politics is a whole different process. When most people discuss something, they sit down and listen to each other. Then they come up with a game plan that often involves compromise.

When many politicians discuss a topic, they often are looking for a way to “win.” And compromise? That’s a four-letter word in the parlance of many politicians, who would rather have 100 percent of nothing than 50 percent of something.

Local politics tend to be more “real” than state or national politics. That’s primarily because a local mayor or city council member is subjected to the ultimate instrument of democracy: the grocery store.

Here’s how it works. Everyone has to eat, so at one time or another, everyone has to go to the grocery store. A mayor or council member is likely to be cornered in front of the ice cream freezer, the doughnut counter – or even by the beer cooler – by a concerned constituent.

And that is the way it should be. Any citizen should have the ability to talk with any elected official. More often than not, that happens at the grocery store.

How often do you see the governor or a U.S. senator at the grocery store? Approximately never.

In Oregon, voters have the added burden of deciding what to do with the initiatives that land in our laps. I vote against them all.

Here’s why. Even if an initiative is a good idea – say, cutting taxes – it inevitably includes one or more unintended consequences. Years ago, Oregonians fiddled with property taxes at the ballot box. They even put it into the state constitution. The result has been a massive fiscal goat rope. Governments are stuck trying to pay for basic services such as police, schools and fire protection and still meet the requirements of a property tax system that is artificially limited and actually takes elected officials off the hook.

In most cities outside Oregon and a couple of other states burdened by a similar tax “system,” the city council is responsible for setting a property tax rate that is determined by taking the cost of local government and dividing it by the total assessed valuation of the private property within the city limits. That doesn’t happen here. Councils have to guesstimate how much revenue they will receive that isn’t earmarked for something such as the water and sewer fund and finagle things until they balance the budget. They really have little control.

When something isn’t adequately funded, elected officials can simply shrug their shoulders because they’re not responsible for the problems the broken property tax system created.

So good luck in next month’s general election. Watch out for those wacky initiatives and do the best you can to pick the best people for the jobs that are open.

And, whatever you do, follow this one last political truism: Don’t believe anything you hear (or read) and only half of what you see.

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