Three wrongs don't make a right
When they broke up the Mean Girls of Multnomah County, some of us thought that the juvenile activity in our local government would be drastically curtailed. Maybe we were wrong. The current flap between the Portland City Council and the gas station operators is now straight outta middle school student government, if not preschool on a bad day.
In case you haven't been following this, the council (Commissioner Sam the Tram presiding) is getting ready to lay a new transportation tax onto everyone's water bill, of all places. The gas station guys are up in arms, and threatening a petition drive to put the matter on the citywide ballot, which is their right. The deck is stacked against them -- they have to come up with many, many valid signatures in an incredibly short time -- but even that's not enough for the City Council. In a fairly transparent attempt to keep the tax off the ballot, Sam the Tram has threatened to break the tax into three separate ordinances, which would make it that much harder to get the petitions signed because apparently it would take three times as many signatures.
That's puerile enough, but it gets worse. The gas station folks first indicated that they wouldn't force the tax onto the ballot if they got some concessions from the Trammeister. But right after he threw them those bones and a single ordinance was passed, they turned around and pointed out some weasel words in their promise that let them wiggle out of it. That's two bad episodes -- the multiple-ordinance scam was the first, and the double-cross the second.
But wait, the food fight's not over. Suddenly Fireman Randy has jumped in, filing some sort of reconsideration request for the tax ordinance and proposing that it be split into three again and re-passed, for no good reason other than to subvert the referendum. Bad Move No. 3, and counting.
I used to think the good fireman was a breath of fresh air on the council, but on some things lately he's become more a breath of nacho cheese Doritos eaten about an hour before. Imposing a new tax via people's already hideously high water bills is a fairly significant move that the public should have a right to weigh in on. Jerking the voters around with game-playing isn't fair, and it reflects poorly on those who engage in it.
Even more appalling is the fact that while our adolescent solons and the lobbyists throw stuff at each other, no one is even acknowledging that the public's right to vote is important. It's not just gas stations and 7-Elevens that are going to get nailed with this new tax. There are all sorts of folks out there whose budget doesn't have an extra $50 a year in it to pay a street maintenance tax while City Hall enjoys its wet dreams of endless streetcar expansions. Plus, the system of differing rates and wacky exemptions they're talking about is going to cost a ton of money to administer; can you imagine how the water billing system is going to perform?
A vote on this is not only a good idea -- it's the only sane way to handle the issue. The public has the right to sign petitions and have their say at the polls, if enough of them want to do so. Indeed, it's a big disappointment that the commissioners aren't men enough to refer it to a vote themselves. If this tax is really necessary, let the case be made for it in an election -- not some phony "open house." Any politician who subverts the electoral process is a rogue -- and the fact that some lobby group is also behaving badly is no excuse whatsoever.