The voters of Grant County will soon be voting on a $10 million “quality of life” bond our three County commissioners unanimously recommended. It will be paid for by increasing the gross receipts tax, New Mexico’s convoluted sales tax, by one-quarter of one percent in the county. Supporters will tell us that this is only $1 out of every $400 in retail purchases. No biggie, right? Wrong. Two reasons:
(1) If the money is used in a corrupt or stupid manner, any amount is too much. For example, if the “quality of life” being enhanced is that of ex-county commissioners, starting with the current three, in the form of life-time annual pensions of $100,000 each, this is clearly corrupt. If the money will be used to build a monorail to the Cliff Dwellings, this is clearly stupid.
(2) By trivializing the tax increment, proponents would have us ignore that this is additive to the taxes we already pay. For example, one-quarter of one percent used to justify one hundred proposals adds up to 25%. It illustrates the old saw that you can’t throw a frog into boiling water, because he’ll reflexively jump out. However, put him in the pot and slowly raise the temperature, and he’s cooked.
“Cooked” is what Grant County taxpayers will be if we continue to approve “quality of life” spending. We have to ask, just whose “quality of life” is being enhanced, the general publics’ or special interests’ ?
A couple of years ago, Silver City had its own $7 million quality of life bond issue. Mayor James Marshall defended the spending by noting that there is a certain level of public infrastructure that most residents think municipalities should provide, in addition to essential services such as police and fire departments.
This includes things like public tennis courts, a municipal golf course, a public swimming pool, attractive parks and maybe even public transportation, e.g. a city bus service. None of these by themselves makes much difference, none can be individually defended as an essential service, but together they constitute important quality of life factors that make Silver City a nice place to live, frosting on the cake, so to speak.
When the city council requested public input on what to spend the money on, a large group of citizens showed up wielding tennis rackets. The refurbishing of six tennis courts made the list. Numerous people also supported building a new clubhouse at the golf course, the primary reason being that a golf course is an absolute must to attract many retirees. That, too, made the list.
There may be a couple hundred families living in Silver City that wouldn’t be here if these amenities didn’t exist. They pay thousands in property taxes and spend millions at local retail stores, and without them Silver City would be hurting. A case can be made that some, SOME, quality of life spending is a good investment for the city, especially for things the city has historically supported.
However, there are a couple of problems with this approach, the first being that it‘s difficult to quantify cost vs. benefit when it comes to quality of life spending. Second, and far more important, the list of new proposals never ends. Somebody will always have a good idea to spend public money on, something that will enhance somebody’s quality of life.
One lady recently said it would really be nice if there were facilities for year-around basket ball and year-around volley ball, to keep the kids busy. Yes, it would be nice. It would be nice if Grant County built a Curling rink, say two sheets of ice up in Pinos Altos, give the kids something to do in the winter, attract retirees from Wisconsin and Minnesota. And on and on and on.
The problem is we are a small, relatively poor community that just cannot afford to be all things to all people. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. Somebody has to draw the line, and it doesn’t look like our elected officials will do it.
Next week: Part Two: How The Money Would Be Spent