Saturday, November 3, 2007

"Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it and all will go well."

Legendary Wisconsin newspaper publisher William T. Evjue penned those words some 90 years ago and they ring true today as much as they did then.

I recall them often -- and did again tonight when I got the cold shoulder from a friend (perhaps now an ex-friend) who didn't like what was written here about the proposed Pleasant Prairie village tax increase.

In fairness to him I went back and revisited what was written (even making some corrections which might have led to the core message being misconstrued) and must conclude that we'll have to agree to disagree.

The core message stated here has been and remains:

  • The proposed 5% increase in the village property tax rate (and 8% increase in village spending), if approved, is politically gutsy and may not sit well with all village voters.
  • The public may legitimately question why any tax increase is needed given major developments in the village that ostensibly should be pumping revenue into the village treasury and the consistent position by village officials that municipal finances are in good shape.
  • Village officials must be prepared to fully, honestly and clearly answer those questions. Voters may or may not accept them -- fair or not, they don't have to -- but they must be there nonethelsss.
  • A chunk of the increase is likely the result of deferred attention to funding capital improvements, an issue which Trustee Michael Serpe has hammered on for years: you can't keep running a budget so lean that you don't provide for the future. As such the incumbent village board could well become the innocent victim of past austerity.
  • That reality hit home last year when village voters defeated referenda for a new ambulance, rescue equipment and a snow plow -- expenditures that arguably should have been planned for.
  • Regardless of the merits of the increased spending and tax increase, it may be a hard sell with voters, particularly in light of the legislature's state budget bloodbath which, right or wrong, has soured many Wisconsinites on the ability of elected officials to effectively govern.
  • You can probably bet that political opponents will use any tax increase to stage their own "tea party" in the next few elections.

On review I don't see anything there that's inaccurate or that should cause anyone to get their undies in a bundle. If they do, may I point out that's dust compared to the storm that the opposition is likely to kick up next spring.

As for me, I haven't taken a final position. I'm waiting to hear the justification but nonetheless suggest that every effort be made to keep taxes in check.

And it may well be that we'll have to agree to disagree -- but it's my preference to disagree honorably and with the personal integrity not to turn a cold shoulder and deaf ear but to listen to your side of the story. As the French philosopher Voltaire wrote three centuries ago: "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

(And by the way, if you don't like what's said here, there's the ability to post your comments. All that's asked is that they be clean, germane and above the belt.)

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