Monday, April 30, 2007

Thoughts on Akron Issue 17

A week from tomorrow is Election Day. Here in Akron, pretty much the only thing on anyone’s radar screen is the city income tax hike proposed in Issue 17. The ABJ runs another preview story today.

A friend and reader asked today if I planned to write about the issue. Frankly yes, then other stuff took over. And really what I wanted to do was use the issue as a hook to rant about how state and federal budget cuts are putting cities between the rock of raising taxes so businesses and the middle class leave town and the hard place about cutting services so everything falls apart and businesses and the middle class leave town. Hmm. If I really need to go into more depth than that, it will be later.

In the meantime, we have a tax issue to contemplate. Frankly, I wish I could vote for half of it. I’m inclined to believe that Akron needs the money for basic services. This isn’t based on extensive research, so much as a look back at where we’ve been. Akron was the only major city that was not in the fiscal weeds during the last recession. In other words, the administration kept its house sufficiently in order during the relative boom that it didn’t bottom out when the bust hit. It did so despite cuts in Federal money to cities and creepingly slow growth in the Local Government Funds – Ohio’s program of state aid to municipalities.

Because Akron is pretty frugal with the taxpayer’s money, the administration should be given some credibility when it says we need the money. I’ve been asked whether the police are truly understaffed. First off, Akron certainly isn’t overflowing with police. We are experiencing a bit of a spike in violent crime (as is most of the rest of the nation.) While the Sudafed laws are having an effect, the proliferation of meth in the city is a real drain on resources. Also, recent events demonstrate the need for better community-police relations. Programs to encourage community relations are always the last to get funded.

Finally, it’s unlikely the Mayor would ask for more police if he didn’t think we really need them. The Mayor and the Police Department do not have a friendly relationship. Some tension between the two entitities is probably healthy in a democracy, though at times it goes beyond healthy. But the point is, Mayor Plusquellec doesn’t carry the water for the police. He’s not asking for more as a favor to the FOP. He doesn’t much like the FOP.

So, the city services half of the Issue I would vote for gladly. I’m less happy with the economic development half. I’m deeply tired of corporations bankrolling free-marketeer Republican politicians, then walking into Democratic cities with their hands out. I’m tired of my tax money going to businesses. Again, this is probably fodder for another post, or maybe part of the rant about the current screw-the-cities vogue. But to keep it simple, I’m not happy that part of the money will be going to business development.

Finally, let’s note the obvious strategy of the campaign. For being the only real issue on the ballot, this campaign has been practically non-existent. I’ve gotten three mailers. Period. No robo-calls, no door hangers, no canvass, no requests to put up a yard sign. In fact, the only signs out are on city property. The website is pretty good, but simply part of the city website.

All of which suggests that the strategy is to target any communications that remind people that there is an election tomorrow to those who will vote for it. I’m guessing the administration will have a boiler room somewhere aggressively calling likely voters and steering clear of everyone else.

We’ll see next week if it works.