The slogan of opponents of the Measure A tax was "Don't trust them."
Unless there’s a private poll showing otherwise, I’d rate the prospects for passage of a library tax poor.
Too bad. I personally love books. Books did more than broaden my horizons and help me understand how the world and humankind works; books set me free from the oppressively bad ideas prevalent in America throughout my young adulthood.
Professionally I’ve used the library as a resource 1,000 times. I love the staff over there. Until the Internet came along, I leaned so heavily on the reference librarians at the Chavez branch that I use to buy them a huge box of See’s Candy every year.
And if any city needs literacy, Stockton does.
The tea leaves, however, are not propitious.
As I noted in a post below, no sitting council member got over 50% in the primary election. None even finished first (except Michael Tubbs). All finished second: I read that as voters giving City Hall a blah review.
The reasons are crime, taxes and the institutional capacity of Stockton government. Voters swallowed their anger at City Hall for the bankruptcy and approved a 3/4 cent sales tax. They shouldered a huge debt that should never have been racked up. In return they were promised 120 more cops and a serious reduction in the appalling gun violence in this city. City Hall had a chance to show a new competence in its post-bankruptcy era.
Instead it has shown it is a distressed organization seemingly condemned to under-perform. There are reasons why their sincere efforts to keep their promise have been thwarted. But what does that matter when gangs are waging lethal gun battles in city parks?
I’m not saying I oppose the tax. But I will understand if opponents point to the Measure A tax and say no new taxes should be approved until the city shows it can responsibly steward the existing ones.
It’s also noteworthy that Measure A squeaked by with 51.86% support. A restricted tax such as the library proposed requires a two-thirds vote.
And then there’s “mission critical” spending. Spending okayed by the language, if not the spirit, of Measure A on maintenance so long-deferred that supposedly it is so critical city government cannot function without it. Again, there’s an argument in defense of this spending. But there’s an argument against it, too, especially since some of the expenditures which have not been critical at all.
And if they all are truly critical, then that is an indictment of the mismanagement that for decades ignored responsible maintenance of city infrastructure and systems and allowed taxpayer investment to crumble. Sorry, but decades-long mismanagement is no argument for a tax increase.
Finally, this story reports that library tax measures initiatives passed in Santa Cruz, Sacramento and San Rafael. “The only one that failed in Northern California was in Kern County,” the story says. Right. The only place a library tax failed was Bakersfield, another city in the San Joaquin Valley. Bakersfield’s oil-based economy is suffering from the drop in oil prices. Coastal cities are off and running, but the Valley as a whole has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession.
So I wish the backers of this tax had waited. To go forward now is to put the library lover on the horns of a real dilemma. Yes, like many others, I love books and highly value them, and I recognize the importance of a library system to the city. But a clear-eyed assessment of City Hall — despite many good people in there — concludes that the system broken by bankruptcy and seemingly cursed by misfortune will always find a way to screw up a tax.
After all, City Hall’s fiscal incompetence is why the library took such a big cut, right? To okay a tax is to settle for that standard. It is to say perpetually poor government is OK.
So what’s stronger? Your love of books and libraries? Or your disapproval of City Hall? I am completely conflicted.