Monday, June 22, 2009


At a party recently some friends were lamenting my embarrassing mistake in proposing a gasoline tax at last Monday’s study session and then withdrawing it from the agenda on Tuesday night. After I explained what was actually going on - and wasn’t reported in the paper - they agreed that it might not have been a ‘real’ mistake but still contended it was a perceived mistake so far as the public’s perception was concerned.

The story as reported was that I urged the Council to institute a gasoline tax and reduce the street improvement fee that appears on everyone’s utility bill, by an amount that balanced out the increased burden from the gas tax. This sounded at best like fiddling with tricky tax shifts at the last minute and, at worst - for those who stop reading as soon as they see the words, “add a tax” - as putting more burdens on citizens at the worst possible time.

What was missing from the story was the possibility that, as part of the deal, the City would receive about $430,000 in matching Federal funds. We said at the Study Session that we were checking on that (crucial) aspect before Tuesday’s Council meeting. In the end there were no matching funds and I pulled the item from Tuesday’s agenda.

But here’s the interesting question: should I avoid taking the risk of being misunderstood, and therefore shaking some citizens’ confidence, rather than pursuing what might have been a big win for the city? Also I did it not just for the potential financial gain for the community but because I want City government to get used to moving fast when opportunities arise. (In a similar vein, I think we should prepare plans for desirable projects for which we don’t have funding, in order to have something besides street paving in our shovel-ready portfolio.)

What do you think? Should I be more conservative about this type of risk-taking?"