Seriously, I'm sorry. I just read a story about Columbus mayor Mike Coleman's State of the City address. Obviously I didn't watch it last night. Apparently the City of Columbus, like most cities, is facing some serious budget shortfalls. In addition to the variety of fees and fines Columbus imposes to generate revenue, the city also charges a flat 2% income tax to both residents and people who work here.
During the 80s, when the rest of Ohio was getting its ass kicked by Reaganomics, Columbus grew. It's economy is not tied to manufacturing as is the case with so many other Midwestern cities. Columbus is a service-based town. In fact, the few factories that are in Columbus struggle with the local labor force. People in Columbus aren't used to concepts like being on time or having a strict schedule for breaks and lunches. So Columbus has always enjoyed a higher quality of life than you'd find in the rest of the region. That means the income tax revenue was pretty nifty.
So Columbus knows how to spend money. The city has dumped big money into projects that are far more ornate than they need to be. The Short North arts district features arches over High Street that look fabulous but set the city back a small fortune. Especially since the city allowed the first contractor to install a defective lighting system and fixed the problem by hiring a second contractor.
The city also spent a ton of money building a pedestrian bridge over the Olentangy River which connects a popular bike/jogging trail to the neighborhoods on the other side of the river. I like the bridge but I think it's probably a tad pricier than we really needed. Of course when the contract was awarded Columbus was rolling in money.
Now that the money's gone, Coleman wants to increase the city's income tax but to do it he has to put the issue on the ballot. That means the citizens of Columbus have to volunteer to be bilked.
That's funny. Mike Coleman's a popular mayor and as mayors go I think he's done a decent job. He's a little more of a political glad-hander than I would like. During election years he spends far too much time traveling the campaign trail while he draws the fat city salary. As a citizen I would rather have him step down to campaign or simply stay focused on the job to which we elected him, but that's PAU. Politics As Usual. Coleman wants to be governor someday so he's got to play the game. That's OK.
What's not OK is expecting a city that has been hit hard by this recession to fork over more money. It's not my fault that city leaders failed to see the writing on the wall 2 or three years ago. If Mike Coleman had been spending more time doing his job and less time pressing political flesh he might have made proactive cuts and bolstered the city's financial reserves. Instead he spent money like it was growing on trees. Columbus squandered its financial resources on vanity projects. Now it's paying the price.
The thing that pisses me off is that Coleman managed to schmooze a few million bucks out of Obama and they dumped that money back into a bloated police force that desperately needs to be streamlined. It's true that more cops could be used on the street but I think we could find the resources to accomplish that by getting rid of a significant number of the administrative types.
For Mike Coleman I have only two words to offer in response to his tax hike proposal: FUCK YOU! I've lived in Columbus for nearly 20 years now and I've yet to see my tax dollars benefit me...not in that selfish republican way but in a reasonablem indirect manner. Based on census figures the median income for your average Columbus resident is just under 40 grand a year and they all pay a flat 2%. Where's it going? I don't necessarily have a problem with some of the projects the city has invested in, but a lot of money has been wasted in the process. In addition to doubling the cost of a number of projects by hiring shady contractors, Columbus has squandered millions on studies that never go anywhere.
The worst thing that could happen is the city government would go broke. So what? It's not like some bank is going to come in and repossess everything within the city limits sending 3/4 of a million people out into the great wide open. Some people will tell you that the city would be without a police and fire department but somehow I think public safety would be accounted for. What would not be accounted for are the city officials who get paid six figure salaries to debate the merits of a street car system that would span a 2 mile stretch between the edge of downtown Columbus and the Ohio State University entertainment district. I could have drafted a proposal for free. I like to call it WALK, FATTY. Seriously, it's two miles! We already have buses that run that section of High Street and nobody uses them. Now you want to fund street cars? Who pays these people?
I don't know how long this recession is going to last. I don't know if I'll still have a job when it's all said and done. These are harrowing times. We're all facing risks and we're all going to have to get used to some financial shortfalls. It's not fair for the government to leave a notch on its belt opened by asking the rest of us to poke another hole in our own. Mike Coleman can kiss my ass. I'm voting no on a tax hike.