This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Monday, September 6, 2010

September 16, 2010 - old days not so good

How would you like to pay 25 cents a pound for rib roast?

Men, would you be willing to lay out $28 for a top-of-the-line suit? Ladies, could you afford $3.25 for a new woolen skirt?

Or maybe you've been hankering after a new car. Would you spend $826 for something right off the production line?

Or suppose you wanted to rent a modest 1,440 square foot house. Does $2 a week seem too steep for four rooms and a bath? Heck, buy it outright for just $4,101!

You might think that all sounds too good to be true. But that's what things cost back in 1919.

It may be nostalgia for the past that's behind Proposition 101, the third of the profoundly anti-government measures on the ballot this fall. (The other two are Amendments 60 and 61, considered in my previous two columns.)

Proposition 101 seeks to stoke the anger of people who saw their motor vehicle fees rise last year. Among its provisions is to "reduce vehicle ownership taxes over four years to nominal amounts." "Nominal" means $10 a year.

That's what it cost to register a car in 1919.

But Proposition 101 doesn't stop there. It also lowers the state income tax to 4.5%, then phases in a further reduction to 3.5%.

Anyone following the news over the past year knows that the state already cut over a billion dollars from its budget. If this goes through, the state will lose more than twice that. At the same time, if Amendment 60 goes through, the state will also have to backfill an additional $1.6 billion resulting from the drop in school property taxes.

As I noted in my last column, that leaves the state with the responsibility to give 99% of its money to local schools. No more roads. No more higher education. No more social services for children. And apparently, no more matching money for federal medical program payments, which may prove problematic for people who are not perfectly healthy.

But what does Proposition 101 mean for local governments? Let me give you an example closer to home.

Because motor vehicle fees are part of your property, the money is divvied up among various entities in your community that depend on property taxes. In 2009, the Douglas County Libraries, for instance, got $1.4 million. Once 101 is fully "phased in" that would drop to less than $10,000 a year. That's a 93% drop in revenue.

The same scale of reduction applies to the county, the school district, and every municipality, metro, fire, and water district.

Proponents of these measures describe them as "modest."

The best interpretation of this gleeful willfulness to slash government funding is that it is predicated on a profound civic ignorance. Government exists to perform functions we actually depend on - such as transportation systems, clean water, and an educated citizenry. Take away the investments that pay for those services, drive the revenue down below the costs, and your own life takes a dive.

Oh, and by the way, here's what nobody mentions when dreaming fondly of the good old days of 1919.

The average salary was $1,125. The life expectancy was 56.

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