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Monday, October 18, 2004

Sun to Poor: Let Them Eat Cake

The Gainesville Sun has no shame. Last week it began making endorsements for local ballot issues and statewide constitutional amendments. In doing so, the newspaper showed how elitist it is.

On Oct. 13, the paper endorsed voting against Amendment 5, which would raise the minimum wage from a paltry $5.15 an hour for all Floridians to a paltry $6.15 an hour. The paper said this small increase in the pay of those at the bottom of the wage scale would cause jobs to be exported overseas and cause small businesses to reduce their workforce.

Three days later, the paper endorsed two local tax initiatives aimed at providing parks and recreation to Alachua County citizens and funding overdue county road maintenance projects. The Sun referred to parks and roads as "life necessities." (I'll update this with a link as soon as The Sun posts the Oct. 17 editorial on its website.)

If you are a low-wage worker or someone who cares about poverty issues, this is a philosophical nightmare.

Let's take the tax initiatives first. If passed, these will take $210 million out of our pockets over the next seven years – to pay for government services that our current tax revenues do not cover. The reason our taxes do not raise enough money for parks and road maintenance is because the Alachua County Commission historically has poorly planned growth to ensure that such needs are met.

The County Commission has been subsidizing growth for decades by building roads, running water and sewer lines, and providing police and fire protection to new developments that in turn do not provide enough tax revenues to offset those costs.

Except for a four-year period from 1998-2002, the County Commission has been dominated by pro-growth commissioners who saw little need for managing growth, much less for making growth pay for itself.

Furthermore, any commissioners who ever spoke in favor of managing growth or making growth pay its own way were derided incessantly in The Sun's editorials as bad commissioners. That practice continues today.

If these tax initiatives are approved, the County Commission will feel no need to budget responsibly or to improve fiscal policies so that we do not run into the same problem in seven years, when those taxes would sunset. By approving these initiatives, voters are telling the county it is OK to poorly plan for our future and that it is OK to have taxpayers subsidize new growth.

Back to the minimum wage amendment. The Sun quotes pro-business lobbyists as its evidence that the $1 an hour increase in the minimum wage would cause all sorts of harm to the economy, from outsourcing jobs to India to "the kiss of death for Main Street businesses."

What else do you expect lobbyists for business owners to say? Anyway, their arguments are weak for a few reasons – most minimum wage jobs are not the kind that you can outsource to other nations (convenience store clerk, low-level restaurant cook, Wal-Mart district manager, etc.), and most mom-and-pop shops are operated by the moms and pops who own them, often with few if any employees. (I owned such a business for 12 years, and the one paid employee I had made far more than minimum wage and had great health and vacation benefits.)

Whenever businesses encounter new costs, the first thing most do is raise prices and cut costs. So we might have to pay an extra 50 cents for a burger or Big Gulp – big deal.

What makes this doubly troubling is that The Sun is against even a minor increase in pay for those at the bottom of the wage scale but in favor of raising taxes on those same people so that the county can continue to subsidize the developments of the newspaper’s paymasters – the developers, builders, Realtors, bankers, engineers and others who profit from real estate development.

That is why I say the newspaper has no shame.

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