Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tax Eaters Are Never Full

The litany of tax increases in Kalamazoo County in the past few years is getting too long to list. Most were passed, while a couple were shot down by voters. The Gazette always supports the proposals, with lots of flowery articles about how much we need more money for [better schools/teacher pay/public transportation/new jail].

The latest one is a proposal that will be on the ballot in November. Something called the "Kalamazoo County Transportation Authority" has put a tax increase on the ballot to take more of taxpayers' money and give it to government "transit services".

Kalamazoo County authority to seek four-year transit tax in November

The KCTA, which dishonors the acronym of the now-disbanded Kalamazoo County Taxpayers Association, is not an elected body. It was created by the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, along with the city of Kalamazoo and the state of Michigan, and it serves to conveniently avoid making any elected officials accountable for voting for a tax increase. Its chairwoman, Linda Teeter, is a former far-left Kalamazoo City Commissioner and staffer for liberal democrat former State Rep. Mary Brown.

The KCTA's big plan is to saddle the entire county with the costs of government transit services. Previously, Metro Transit had been run by the city of Kalamazoo. But Kalamazoo has been losing population for several decades, old businesses have been moving out of the city, and new businesses have been locating outside city limits. Several of the largest employers in the city are government entities, including WMU. The cause and consequence of all this is that the city of Kalamazoo has much higher taxes than the surrounding political jurisdictions.

That's not fair, of course, so the county bureaucrats, always looking to help, want to distribute the tax burden to the rest of the county.

If voters approve the tax, the authority will levy 0.63 mills in 2008, gradually increasing the tax rate each year up to 0.86 mills by 2011. The first year should generate about $5 million, officials said Monday night.

The transportation millage would replace two expiring taxes: 1.38 mill for Kalamazoo city taxpayers and 0.38 mill for the rest of Kalamazoo County.
But why should voters in Vicksburg or Richland have to pay for bus service when buses don't go there? More fundamentally, why should anyone have to pay for transportation systems they don't use?

Others, such as Texas Township Supervisor Ron Commissaris and authority Chairwoman Linda Teeter, say there is definite need for public transportation, and the entire county should be responsible for paying for it.

"It needs to be subsidized,'' Commissaris said. "Texas Township has always supported countywide millages that's come in the past.''

Both low-income workers and professionals struggle with high gas prices, and many choose the bus instead of driving to work, Teeter said. Increased ridership is evidence of that, she noted.

"Public transportation is vital for this economic development Kalamazoo County has taken on,'' she said, adding the authority will re-examine its current routes and look how to expand further into the county next year.
Texas Township voters booted Commissaris out of office earlier this month. The usual government flunkies follow the typical script of saying "x is important (for the economy!), therefore government should spend money on x". But why can't the people who use these services pay for them? If there's so much demand, why is there a need for subsides?

In reality, the government buses provide poor service at high prices. As previously stated on this blog:

My own experience with the bus system has reinforced my beliefs. Like most Americans, I avoid buses when at all possible. However, I have used the bus system a few times on Western's campus.

To start with, I should point out campus is practically the ideal scenario for making buses practical. The population density is high. The entry and exit points (e. g. dorms and classrooms) are concentrated. People have to move frequently from place to place.

Nonetheless, the bus system on campus was highly frustrating. The buses were often late and occasionally never came at all. For a student needing to be in class on time, this was simply unacceptable. Occasionally, during peak hours, the bus would be so full that no more people could fit on it.

Most people will never ride buses regularly because they require waiting around. They require you to schedule your life around the bus schedule. They often don't go where you need to go. They don't let you keep things handy, as you can in your car.
Last year, Western was going to cut two bus routes contracted through Metro Transit due to lack of funds. After students protested, Western hired Indian Trails, a private company, to do the same service for less money.

The result is a contract that reduces costs by about 25 percent from last year's, despite increased route traffic, and saves nearly $900,000 over previously projected costs.
There is no reason that the rest of the bus system couldn't be similarly privatized, except that the government employee unions wouldn't like it.

Even better, why not just let private business provide bus service with no government involvement? There's no reason why they couldn't. Then, we'd find out how much "public transportation" people really want, meaning how much they're willing to pay for. But liberal ideologues won't do that, because they're always trying to force people into socialist government transportation systems, and they won't take no for an answer.

If the millage doesn't pass, Teeter said the authority will put it on the ballot again, adding there is no set waiting period before the authority can ask voters again.
The bus routes have been saved
Ax the bus tax
Bus Tax: The Facts
Tax increase for busing?

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