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Raining pennies down on City of Manteca: Would the ‘other’ Ben think it is wise to do?

It’s too bad Ben Franklin wasn’t alive today and serving on the Manteca City Council.

The American Man for all Seasons might just give us some insight into how we should value a penny.

The man credited with discovering electricity that PG&E turned into a weapon of mass destruction might also shed some light on the council’s apparent hang up — and obsession — with a penny.

If you’re like me, you have several pounds of pennies lining desk drawers and filling various containers. You probably think one day you might roll 50 of them up at a time and exchange it for some real coin. But you never do.

It’s kind of strange behavior. We know a thousand pennies is worth ten dollars, an amount of money we wouldn’t dismiss or just let laying around and not put to use.

Most of us would have no issue tossing a few of them into the garbage save for the fact many of us have had it drummed into our heads it is illegal to do so.

Title 18, Chapter 17 of the United States Code lists a lot of things it is illegal to do with money from defacing it to essentially mutilating it as we do when we press pennies into a design with one of those 50 cent arcade game style contraptions. Throwing away money, however, is not illegal. If it were the California Legislature would have to be placed under house arrest.

I digress, or do I?

Five days from now the fate of Measure Z is going to be decided.

If the City of Manteca’s interim finance director is correct, voting against Measure Z could turn out to be the equivalent of handing police officers, firefighters, and other city workers a pink slip within a dozen or so months.

Her warning is fairly simple and reasonable. A penny is the best defense against the economic ravages being created by CÒVID-19 when it comes to basic services.

She does not profess to have a crystal ball. She simply sees what is in front for her and also the strong possibility of one year added to a second year added to a third year of deficits.

That means a projected $6 million general fund deficit could become $18 million by the end of 2023.

Of course Stephanie Beauchaine could be wrong.

That said it does seem a pretty safe bet that there is at least another year or so of living dangerously until COVID-19 becomes as easy to live with as the flu’s fatality rate.

So what might Ben Franklin — a man who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Treaty of Paris, and the Treaty of Alliance — have to say to the rest of the Manteca City Council if they were his peer?

How about grow a backbone?

It is true the council officially one by one tried to map out a position that saved them from saying they supported a one cent sales tax or are opposed to a one cent sales tax during the public meeting where they placed it on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“Let the people” decide they basically said one by one.

This might shock the council but under California law the people are the only one who can decide.

What people really need from their elected leaders is leadership as opposed to how artful they are finding cover to prevent being marred by any political fallout.

Taking a neutral position on a major tax issue was incredibly spineless in the pre-pandemic world when none of them communicated at the council meeting when it was placed on the ballot where they stood.

It is true it takes money to have things but what was needed was at least some policy paper that the current council committed to as a spending plan just like the less political Lathrop City Council did in coming up with a plan on how they would spend revenue from a simple majority sales tax voters were able to buy into.

Those days are now ancient history. That’s because the pandemic is a catastrophic life-changing event. That’s based on how sudden it hit and how long it is likely to drag us down.

Ben Franklin and his compatriots essentially signed their death warrants when they inked their signatures to the Declaration of Independence.

Yet no one on the council will go on record as for or against the tax increase in light of what COVID-19 is doing for fear they’d be hanging themselves politically,

It is true another Ben — as in Mayor Ben Cantu who many might argue is the anti-Franklin based on his desire to spend tens of millions of pennies for seemingly everything under the sun — is on social media pumping up Measure Z.

But given that the pressing issues are no longer expanding or restoring service levels and adding amenities but keeping what is in place from being cut, Cantu is part of the Measure Z leadership vacuum.

That sounds like an unfair indictment until you remember one thing. The people the majority of the current council have put in place and entrusted to move Manteca forward and change the culture at city hall are the ones sounding the alarm COVID-19 is torpedoing general fund revenue.

This council is basically ignoring the alarms in a bid not to inflict political damage on themselves.

That leaves voters that are undecided on Measure Z — assuming there are any left — to decide who to believe: The city management that is making it clear we’re heading for an iceberg or elected officials that act as if they are on a balmy cruise through the Caribbean.

Unlike in 2010 when there was no tax being proposed that could have helped the city avoid cutting the police force by 12 officers there is a life preserver the council can point to as an alternative to being 100 percent at the mercy of perilous economic seas.

The current council simply chooses not to take a leadership role and “let the public decide” without giving their perspective.

That means in two years’ time if the deficit trend continues, you won’t have to go back 40 years to lay the blame for subpar city service levels at the feet of previous councils. Instead you can legitimately blame the current council.

Of course, they will say they “let the people decide”. In doing so they will tactically consider they never provided leadership at a critical juncture in Manteca’s history.

If you believe there is any possibility that the COVID-19 economic collateral damage isn’t a myth then you need to ask yourself if pennies most of us seem to view as worthless has any value going to the City of Manteca for the benefit of 85,000 residents or are they best used to turn couches into treasure hunts for 5-year-old kids?