Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Forget tax and spend: Now it's no taxes and no spending

April 28, 2011 |  3:53 pm

Classroom We've all heard this phrase: "Everything's for sale for the right price."

Today, there's a new corollary among taxpayers: "I'm not paying for that."

In 1978, Californians who were fed up with rising property taxes passed Proposition 13. In 2011, Californians -– heck, most Americans -– are seemingly just plain fed up with all taxes.

The Times' George Skelton, in his Capitol Journal column "A taxes-school disconnect" on Thursday, captured this mood:   

This is the illogical world we live in: Parents say their children's schools are underfunded and worry about program cuts. But they don't want to pay higher taxes to avoid deeper cutting.

They think someone else -- the wealthiest Californians -- should fork out more to stabilize their kids' schools.

Actually, guess that's logical after all. As the late Louisiana Sen. Russell Long used to say: "Don't tax you, don't tax me. Tax that feller behind the tree."

On Wednesday, my colleague Alexandra Le Tellier blogged on the subject of proposed cuts in the Los Angeles Fire Department: "Contempt for firefighters won’t solve L.A.’s budget mess."

She was shocked to find that many commenters were not concerned -– were, in fact, pleased about -- the proposed cuts. Seems yesterday's heroes of raging wildfires are today's overpaid slackers.

It reminded me of the story out of Tennessee last year in which a man's house burned while firefighters stood by -– because he hadn't paid a $75 annual fee for firefighter protection. As ABC News reported:

The city of South Fulton charges that $75 fire protection fee to rural residents who live outside the city limits. When a household has not paid the fee, firefighters are required by law to not respond.

"We have to follow the rules and the ordinances set forth to us, and that's exactly what we do," said Jeff Vowell, South Fulton city manager.

The fees -- which often cover police services too -- are fairly common in rural areas. Without implementing complex tax arrangements to cover cash-strapped city budgets, there are simply few other options.

"If the city starts fighting fires in the homes of people outside the city who don't pay, why would anyone pay?" said Jacqueline Byers with the National Association of Counties.

Now, I'm just guessing, but I'm pretty sure that the people of Alabama today are glad that there was enough tax money to pay for police and firefighters as they dig out from Wednesday's disastrous tornadoes.

And I suspect that when the Big One strikes California -– or heck, if you can't wait that long, when the next wildfire breaks out, or maybe even when Uncle Fred's heart gives out -- those folks who commented about overpaid firefighters will be on the phone too. 

Because the guy in Tennessee who "forgot" to pay his $75 fee sure was, and he offered any amount of cash to save his home. But the phrase "a day late and a dollar short" took on a whole new meaning for him.

If we won't pay for schools, and we won't pay for firefighters, what will we pay for?

And if it's a question of how much we're willing to pay, ask yourself this: Were you upset that CBS chief Leslie Moonves got $57.7 million last year in compensation? No?

Fine. So the next time your house is burning, call him. Because remember, you got rid of the $100,000-a-year firefighter.   

And don't worry about your kids' education. They can always watch TV.


Rutten: It's time to pass California tax hikes legislatively

California budget breakdown

Difficult budget choices that impact children's programs

Holes in the safety net

Fixing a harebrained tax system

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: A classroom at Central Los Angeles High School before it opened to students. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Comments ()