My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Category: Information Only (page 1 of 49)

Schools and Taxes

As I understand it, our local elected folks are having discussions about raising taxes over the next three years by about 10 cents….and that's just extra money for the schools operating budget.  That doesn't include building a school or increasing funding for City programs.  I'm simply stunned.  Something has gone horribly wrong when taxes have to go up that much and that isn't all that will be required.  The budget projections to rebuild Dean appear to be about twice that of Baldwin – that surprised me.  Everyone knows that the rate is essentially meaningless without valuation and valuations in the City aren't plummeting like they were in 2008.  They're stagnant or slightly up….so it isn't as though the rate is going up to keep the tax bills flat.  The other big part that's missing in this discussion, and it's something I think our Council should be asking for, is a plan to increase the school's performance.  Indeed, we seem to be facing this increase to simply maintain the status quo.

My rather harsh stance on this has surprised some folks.  "Don't you support the schools?" is a common refrain.  I sent my kid to those same schools so of course I do.  In addition, while on Council, I made some tough deals and worked to get budgets passed that increased taxes – that built a new elementary school and started a Science and Tech program.  My critics might ponder on that a bit.  I took a lot of heat for making that deal for Baldwin.  The city actually had to cut its operating budget to fund the construction of Baldwin.  I helped make that deal and I took the heat – many of my party members called for my head during those years – so of course I support the schools.

However, what I don't support is what seems to have happened since.  When we made the deal to build Baldwin it was supposed to put the schools on a glide slope so that, as debt service payments rolled off, they could afford – with some tweaking – to rebuild Dean.  Evidently someone dramatically missed the mark on their budget projections.  Indeed, I feel as though someone wasn't exactly straight with me at the time.

Let's be clear: what we are facing is an existential threat for our schools and city.  People are having discussions on social media about folding the City back into the County.  It's heartbreaking.  Should we throw up our hands and give up?  Never.  However, we can and should demand more from our leadership than simply increasing taxes.  With even the latest increases the City has a difficult value proposition.  We will need strong leaders – who aren't busy playing games – and much more public involvement to get this train back on the tracks.

I have avoided city hall like the plague since leaving office but I'll be at the budget meeting tomorrow night.  Before I write further on the matter I need to get a better flavor for what's going on….I admit that it's the size of the increase that so surprised me but I owe it to the schools to get better informed as to what's going on if I am to be a critic.  I suppose it is possible that I'll leave that meeting singing a different tune.  I don't think it'll happen but I'm open to the possibility.


Guns and People

We have reached what must be the apex of the mass-shooting scale – a gunman firing from a prepared, elevated position into a crowd of people.   Utilizing weapons modified to, more or less, fire as though they were fully automatic.  Really, to one up that the next guy is going to have to use a belt-fed machine gun.  I guess he could cheat and use a second shooter.  That would be effective.  Firing at right angles would probably be the best.

Do I sound jaded?  caustic?  Do I not mourn the dead and pray for the injured?  Of course I do.  I hope they all recover but, friends, this is the country we've chosen.  There can't be a fundraiser, moral outrage and national mourning every time this happens.  I mean, didn't we cross that line when a crazy man shot up an elementary school?  If there was a time when our leaders were going to take clear action, it seems like it would have been then.

It just isn't intellectually honest for us to mope around when this happens.  We, as a nation, long ago shrugged our collective shoulders and chose to do nothing.  This is the reality we have selected.  

Seriously, if everyone in that crowd would have had a pistol….well….the entire side of the Mandalay Bay would have riddled with bullets and the body count would have been four times higher.  The notion that a guy with a pistol is the answer has been put to bed several times.  Yes, every now and then an armed civilian stops some nuttiness and I've no fight with that but, time and again, a guy with a semi-automatic rifle wins that argument.  In the Florida night club shooting the first responders had to initially retreat as they were outgunned.  

Did you know that only 22% of Americans own guns?  That number stuns me.

I'm conflicted about the thing.  On the one hand, I own a bunch of guns.  Most of them lay around gathering dust but a couple I do shoot regularly.  I enjoy shooting and having a gun to defend your house and family with is no bad thing.  If I'm being honest, my go-to gun is my 9mm.  I train with it.  I can operate it in complete darkness – and nearly silently.  The "big dog" is the M4 but that thing is a handful to shoot and, in a house, a bit unwieldy.  That's the same gun that has been used in many of the mass-casualty shootings.  It's ridiculously powerful.  An average handgun is cute and cuddly compared to most rifles – a rifle round will carry about 3 times as much energy as your average handgun – and the bullet used by the M4 is designed to cause wounds that belie its small size.  In fact, adjustments have been made to that bullet over the years to make the wounds worse.  That's alot of power for just anyone on the street to carry around.

And yet we have this Second Amendment thing.  My more left-leaning friends will decry that what republicans secretly want is for "everyone to have a nuclear weapon".  The republicans will point out that gun control doesn't work in Chicago and we'll be back to crazy people murdering dozens of our fellow citizens.  The "gun control doesn't work in <insert city here>" argument is ridiculous.  Of course it doesn't work – you can buy all the guns you want pretty much everywhere else in the United States.  In New York they found that so many of the guns used in crimes were purchased in Virginia that they shamed VA into passing the one gun a month law…..that was later repealed.  

I don't know what the answer is but I do know it includes a reasoned discussion and debate amongst the country's leadership.  Why can't that happen?  Why do none of our leaders have the stones to pick up the phone and call the leaders from the other party and make something happen?  On gun control.  or the budget. or health care.  or deficit reduction.  or education……funny, now that I put it like that it seems pretty clear what our problems are: we have lousy, weak leaders who care about one thing – getting reelected so they can stay on the gravy train in Congress.  It's at least a little ironic the only person to have actually done this is Mr. Trump.  Yeah, didn't see that coming.  Maybe he'll do it again.  I could get past his idiotic tweeting if he obtained some results.

I mean, outlawing bump stocks seems like the lowest-hanging fruit in history….

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