About PARC and the Larger Issue It Exposes

The PARC Proposal

My ballot in American Fork on Election Day — or whenever I get around to early voting — will include this proposition:

American Fork PARC referendum

They’re calling it the PARC tax, for Parks, Arts, Recreation, and Culture. If it passes, a committee of seven American Fork residents (whom the mayor will choose from among those who apply) will consider applications for funding and make recommendations to the city council.

Based on recent sales tax history, the revenue from the new tax should be at least $600,000 per year, at first. Those funds will be used — not necessarily in any fixed proportions — for parks and recreation facilities, arts programs and facilities, and cultural pursuits.

(So far, no one at the City has offered me a definition of “culture.” Maybe we’ll know it when we see it. I hope it includes the library.)

Utah law allows this small increment to be added locally to the regular sales tax. Salt Lake City does it; Orem does it; several other cities do it, and it looks to me like it’s working.

Some at the City are saying that 70% percent of sales tax paid in American Fork is paid by people from outside American Fork. That number is based on an unscientific survey with a very small sample, so I wouldn’t use it.

But I don’t care about the percentage. I know that some of the tax is paid by out-of-towners, and that’s nice, but the actual percentage makes no difference to my vote.

The Numbers Game

As you see, the proposal is to increase sales tax within the city from 6.75% to 6.85% — by one penny on a ten-dollar purchase. That’s clear enough, right?

It is clear, until we play the numbers game.

Depending on how you look at it, that’s a 0.1% increase — in the sense that 0.1% is how much more of a purchase amount will be added as tax than before. Obviously, 6.85 is 6.75 plus 0.10.

Or it’s a 1.48% increase, in the sense that the amount of tax we’ll pay on a given purchase will be 1.48% higher than before (because 0.10 is 1.48% of 6.75).

These are the two numbers which give a clear picture of the proposal.

Some folks don’t want you to have a clear picture of the proposal, because they’re afraid you’ll vote for it. So they have another number.

And I have a philosophical question. If you tell a truth with the intent to deceive the voters, is it a lie? Or is it just politics?

If you’re one of those folks whose conscience requires a small grain of truth when you set out to mislead the voters, then PARC would be about a 10% increase. The City’s portion of sales tax is about 1%, and increasing that percentage to 1.1% is a ten percent increase. (From 1.0 to 1.1 is a 10% increase.) This is the number which appears on opponents’ signs, fliers, and web site.

Based on conversations with opponents and my reading of their fliers, signs, and web site, I believe it is the opponents’ intent to deceive voters about the size of the proposed tax increase.

(I often link to things with which I disagree, but I’m not linking to the PARC opponents’ web site. I try to avoid helping people deceive the voters. Their site is easy to find, if you look. Or if you want responsible, adult discussion of serious questions about the proposal, go to Yes4PARC. You might also look at the City’s own materials, which include pro and con statements and rebuttals.)

My Thinking

First, I ask myself, does a city have any business taxing people to pay for arts, parks, and recreation? I think, yes.

Some say these things are nonessential. I think they’re essential, if we want to have a community. I’d like American Fork always to be a place where people want to live, not the run-down city where people live when they can’t afford a place where the people care about quality of life.

The nonessentialists would have more credibility with me if they weren’t openly hostile to funding more obviously essential things too, like roads. Remember their campaign of misinformation about last year’s road bond? (I wrote eleven short pieces about that proposal.)

Let me put that another way. Please remember their campaign of misinformation about last year’s road bond. The organized opposition to the PARC proposal is the same crowd, with the same studied disinterest in facts and the same apparent taste for deceit.

Second, if you don’t mind a constitutional note, assorted founders have constitutionally limited the legitimate powers of national and state governments. One of their primary motives was to reserve to local levels, closer to the people, the power to do most things that people might reasonably wish their government to do. Constitutionally, the local level is the most appropriate level for funding arts, parks, and recreation.

Third, I ask myself, how do we know that a substantial portion of the funds will go to arts, not just parks and recreation? I asked that of City officials, too. That was right after I mentioned to them that this is the same City which said — almost with a straight face, I think — that it was doing such a nice thing for the American Fork Symphony by building them a place in the newly-expanded rec center.

They built them a gym. A gym is what they built. For an orchestra. We could see from the beginning that the “orchestra” gym was meant for the rec center, not the arts.

More recently, the City evicted the theater programs’ costume collection from its longtime home in the rec center, leaving the city’s thespians to scramble for an alternative.

Meanwhile, the arts programs in the city are still reeling from a structural change implemented a few years ago, in which they were essentially privatized. Now they get grants from the City — and elsewhere, we earnestly hope — but they don’t belong to the City. In a long view, this is necessary and wise, and will help the arts grow in American Fork. In the short term, it’s more or less understandable that they’re still reeling. Change often comes hard.

So I wonder how prepared the arts community is to compete with recreation interests for funding.

In truth, though, I’m not too worried. They can get prepared; they need to do that anyway. They’ve already organized to help PARC pass.

Best of all, the people who have the final say in who gets the money each year work for me — and you. I think we can manage. A lot of people will be watching.

A Plan? No Plan?

The zealots have it bass-ackwards. Last year, they sold a whole bunch of voters the fraud that the City had no plan for the use of road bond funds. (This strongly suggests that they care a great deal more about their ideology than about the facts.) In truth, the City had a very detailed, very professional, very public plan for those funds. The only variable was how fast the funds would pay for specific projects — because labor and materials costs vary.

I would prefer a partial plan for the first few years of PARC funding, in which they told us that such-and-such an amount or percentage would go to this project or that, and the rest would be at the committee’s and city council’s discretion. But there is only a proposed mechanism, not a substantive plan.

Since there really is no plan, the zealots are claiming that there is a secret plan. It is to use most or all of the funds to finish the Art Dye Park Regional Sports Complex and Intergalactic Spaceport. (I may not have the name exactly right.)

There is, in fact, a long-standing plan to finish Art Dye Park — but it is a plan for finishing the park, not for funding the effort. It certainly is not a plan to use the bulk of PARC tax revenues to finish the park. We’ve been implementing the plan piecemeal for years, as funds have become available — long before the PARC tax proposal. It’s a little more urgent now, because the City has wisely chosen to use some park land near the cemetery for cemetery expansion, at the cost of a couple of heavily-used ball fields, instead of buying new cemetery land. But the zealots are not deterred or impressed by this evidence of frugal wisdom on the City’s part any more than they are daunted by facts which contradict their prejudices.

Shall we join the zealots in their dark little world for a moment?

There is a secret plan, you see. There must be, because there always is. As every competent conspiracy theorist knows, the best proof that there is a plan is a government official saying there is no plan.

And all good zealots know an additional fact: Only the zealots can be trusted to tell the truth and to have pure intentions. In fact, their cause is so sacred that if they have to lie and deceive a little, and even pay youth to steal PARC proponents’ signs by the dozen, well, the ends justify the means. That’s what it means to be righteous — on their planet. (Not so much mine.)

Moreover, for the zealots, government itself, no matter how sparsely funded, is by definition overfunded and wasteful and deserves to be strangled, at least institutionally. Otherwise, it may attempt unconscionable things — like fixing our long-neglected roads and helping to fund theater programs and basketball teams for little boys and girls. Even if most of the people want that, it would be wrong.

But back to my plane of reality.

For my part, I am a proponent of the arts and recreation. And parks. I don’t have any problem with using a lot of PARC tax revenue to finish Art Dye Park. I think that would be a fine plan — if there were a plan.

The Fairest Tax — Until You Propose One

A sales tax is a consumption tax; you choose to pay it when and where you choose to buy. Conservatives have loved it for years, often to the point of preferring to replace income and property taxes with sales taxes. (A wise government relies on diverse sources of funding, however, because no single source is stable.)

The zealots see themselves as the true conservatives. You’d think they’d like the idea of a sales tax. Maybe they do — until you propose one.

I would rather have the arts in particular partially funded by sales taxes, and therefore subjected to the vagaries of the economy, rather than the whims of a bad future city council, which is bent on further cutting taxes which automatically cut themselves every year anyway. Which brings me to my next point.

Timing

Coming on the heels of last year’s road bond defeat, the PARC proposal is not ideally timed. But I can understand why a 4-1 majority of reasonable adults on the city council would want to propose it now. There may not be another chance soon, if the won’t-pay-to-fix-the-roof zealots take over the majority next November.

Moreover, there has been talk for a while at the state level of imposing this tax statewide. I’d rather have it administered locally, and cities which are already doing it are almost certain to be allowed to keep doing it locally — to be grandfathered, as we say. So let’s be one of them.

A Tired Accusation

As they almost always do, the people who oppose something the City proposes have accused the City of illegal advocacy. There are some legal constraints on the City, as it does its duty to inform the voters, but this tired accusation is almost never true in American Fork.

There are attorneys on the zealot side of this one, so the inevitable formal complaints have been filed — not because they’re plausible or because they’ll win, but so they can say, scurrilously, that there is a “current investigation” into the City’s “perhaps ILLEGAL campaigning.”

Yawn. It ain’t happening. The City is pretty careful about that.

Quality of Life Revisited

If you strangle a city’s budgets and programs long enough and effectively enough, you’ll create a place where people don’t want to live. That’s bad for the tax base, the crime rate, property values, the schools, and the local economy, among other things.

If you expect the schools or the dominant church in the community to provide the cultural, recreational, and artistic life of the entire community, you dilute their important missions and also end up excluding large sectors of the community from participation.

So one could argue that taxpayer-assisted quality-of-life programs are very nearly as essential as roads and police protection — if we want to live in a place where we want to live. PARC isn’t the whole answer to that, but it’s a piece of the answer.

Beyond that, the City’s commitment, in the form of PARC, will increase arts and recreation programs’ ability to obtain outside grants. And vibrant arts and recreation programs, with excellent parks, will attract economic growth. And that will repay our PARC investment many fold.

My Unsurprising Recommendation

Just say no to deceptive zealots whose sound principles run about a quarter-inch deep, and who take their conviction of their own righteousness as license to spread their toxic prejudices and misinformation across an entire city and to suppress the legitimate political speech of their opponents. (See the note above on paying people to steal signs.)

Say no to whatever or whomever they promote next time, too. They’re poisonous and destructive — because they resist facts and prefer to deceive the voters, rather than to argue the actual strengths and weaknesses of a proposal. They’re bad for good government.

Vote YES on PARC.

(Then shop in American Fork, when it makes sense to do so.)

One thought on “About PARC and the Larger Issue It Exposes”

  1. David Rodeback says:

    I’m advised that the 3-2 majority I reported was actually a 4-1 majority, when the American Fork City Council voted to put PARC on the ballot. I’ve corrected the error in the post.

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