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Asking Uncle Sam for another fix

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POSTED March 2, 2017 1:28 a.m.

Free money. Free money.
Isn’t the concept great?
One idea batted around during the mid-year budget review by the Manteca City Council was almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad.
The city — it was argued — needed professional grant writers to go after federal funds to save the day.
Grants aren’t an untapped financial lode in Manteca by any means. The city has gone after state and federal “grants” for road projects. It even has landed big dollars for “specialty” projects tapping into restricted funds such as the state clean air funds being used to convert garbage into fuel to power solid waste collection trucks as a way of meeting the state mandate to eventually eliminate the burying of food waste. The city also secured a federal grant to hire six firefighters that runs out in 10 months.
The grant writer suggestion was a bid to do two things: It takes a lot of staff time from a city workforce that is arguably lean and mean to begin with. Plus there are also other government grants out there Manteca may benefit from as they have in the past to support everything from law enforcement to even the purchase of former railroad right-of-way to eventually create the Tidewater Bike Way.
So why is this so sad?
Some of the individuals turning to Uncle Sam are also arguing the federal government needs to reduce spending. In fact — except for perhaps California’s largest cities — it’s a lament that you will hear elected council members up and down the state say over and over again.
There is a disconnect between how their grant request is unwise spending as opposed to other grant requests and even the bloated food stamp rolls, run-of-the-mill welfare and corporate welfare.
The same people who rail at federal government excess spending in the same meeting will take action to ask for more federal government money.
The addiction is so strong and prevalent that they don’t even realize that they are contradicting themselves.
Un-ringing the proverbial bell might be impossible. But then again just like drug addicts who whine it is too tough to forsake their drug of choice, there is an aversion — and fear — to going through the pain of withdrawal. Freely translated, it isn’t going to happen.
Some of the same folks who slammed earmarks — better known by the political jargon shorthand of “pork barrel projects” — in the federal budget are chomping at the bit for them to return.
Meanwhile cities such as Manteca are dealing with realities excabarated by structural issues with an archaic tax system that aren’t going away. Even though Internet sales are being taxed finally, they are not as thoroughly being collected and the formula used to return them to local government doesn’t make it way 100 percent to the city where the resident buying online lives. Increased fuel efficiency has not only hammered gas tax receipts that repair highways and local streets but a new class of zero emission drivers that benefit from tax credits pushing $10,000 don’t even pay a cent toward the upkeep of the roads they drive. Taxing cable for “streaming” TV shows into local homes very nicely gives those who use new technologies via the Internet and wireless broadband to access entertainment to skirt the tax. Those are just three examples.
In know. In know. Don’t tax new technologies. Let them grow. Taxes are bad.
I’ve got real bad news for you. What do you think pays for roads, police, fire, the military, national parks, massive dams, and such? It isn’t Elon Musk’s charm. In fact, given the tax credits he sucks in your taxes are also supporting Elon Musk. And while it can be said that just about everyone in this country relies on federal funds to a degree, very few of us are able to get rich by pursuing a business plan where federal and state governments help you to legally avoid taxes to make every dollar you take in a dollar not being diluted by tax liability.
The conflict is unavoidable perhaps once you are elected to a city council, board of supervisors or even the legislature.
You may want to get off the merry go-round but there are all those demands — inflation, unfunded pensions, state mandates, crumbling roads, and the demands of constituents that want more services but don’t want to pay more for them.
But there is a harsh reality.
Sooner or later you need to wean yourself off addictive behavior. You need to examine what has gotten you into this predicament. And you have to be willing to take the cure. That will require innovative thinking, cutbacks and new taxing measures that are narrowly focused much like Measure K for transportation and Measure M for public safety.
If not the ultimate end game will be a government that is hollow, struggling to pay debt and struggling to prop up basic services.
It is better to live without general fund fixes as the city is now discovering with federal funding for the six firefighters than it is to be forced to go cold turkey.
Having to come up with $1.3 million to keep the six positions intact on a sustainable basis all at once is going to be a jolt to the rest of the city’s needs.
But who knows? Maybe the friendly federal drug dealer by the name of Uncle Sam whose drug of choice is funneling tax dollars back to the provinces will come through with another fix.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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