The front page of Wednesday’s edition of the Post offers a simple and valuable lesson in civics, specifically local government. The first story, “5% city tax increase possible,” has City Manager Eric Sorensen defending his proposal for a 5% city tax increase. He explains that because of state aid cuts, city revenue is down. It goes without saying, of course, that in this difficult economy everyone’s revenues are down, with private employers cutting jobs, hours, and pay.
Directly beneath that story is one entitled, “Winona pays for Phillips’ pipes.” This story informs us that the city will pay $1.3 million for the extension of utilities way out into Pleasant Valley beyond Winona city limits for a new subdivision there. So far, the city has received $170,000 from the developer to defray the $1.3 million, and he doesn’t owe anything additional until more lots are sold. At this point, after two years, one lot has sold, and that deal may be shaky. City Councilor Deb Salyards, casting a nay vote, called the extension, “financially, a pipeline to nowhere,” and questioned whether the utilities would ever pay for themselves. No one in city government has given a word of explanation as to what benefit will accrue from the project to anyone but the developer and, presumably, the buyers of some very costly building lots.
Let us suppose that a local businessman went to his customer in this economic climate and explained that he needed a 5% increase in his budget because his business was down. “So is mine,” says the customer. “I’ve had to slash costs, lay off some people, and cut the hours and pay of others. I guess you’ll have to do the same.” The businessman replies, “Well, my need is greater, because I have wasted a lot of money on bad investments. Besides, you must understand that I, who wish to sell goods and services, am more important than you, the customer for them. Therefore, you must suffer more so that I may suffer less. You understand, don’t you?”
At this point, the customer says, in keeping with the season, “Ho ho ho,” and kicks the businessman out the door.
Citizens of Winona may want to communicate with their city government in the same vein.