This article was first published in print and online on November 19th in Bruce’s “We the Government” column. For more information about his biweekly syndicated column, be sure to read the introductory post here.
This column’s primary mission deals with citizen ownership and responsibility for our governments. However, at times I am asked if that just sounds good? Or, is it really possible? Are we “tilting at windmills?” Can you fight City Hall?
Today, I want to assure everyone that citizen ownership is absolutely possible, and I have real-world results to prove it. It takes effort and organization, but it is possible. Let me share a few illustrations to encourage us all!
2020 was a busy year for the Sacramento Taxpayers Association. SacTax was involved in a multitude of state and local issues, including Split Roll Property Tax and several local policy and tax matters (COVID fines on businesses, changing the election cycle of the county sheriff, and the Sacramento strong mayor initiative, etc.). The result was that billions of unnecessary tax dollars were saved!
Of particular significance, in the spring of 2020, we met head-on the Sacramento Transportation Authority’s proposal to increase the county-wide sales tax by a half percent for forty years. On July 15, 2020, after months of working on this tax increase in the middle of a pandemic, the Authority reluctantly withdrew its November 2020 ballot measure. Most notable to me was literally the very last comment in the report:
“(S)hould any organized opposition materialize, the measure will not be viable (on the November ballot).”
Dear co-owners of our government, we were the “organized opposition!” And, we had a resounding success.
Then in August 2020 (after pleading with the Citrus Heights City Council to reconsider placing Measure M on the November ballot to raise their sales tax by one percent with no sunset date) we faced another new battle. The Council was intransigent – arrogantly confident that voters would easily approve their tax increase as the Council’s consultants assured them that polling showed the measure being adopted by well over 70 percent.
The City Council scoffed at us – confident in their ability to call in over $50,000 of “pay-to-play” vendor money to push Measure M across the winning line, as well as spend thousands of public city dollars in multiple citywide mailings to every household – all proclaiming the merits of Measure M in so called “educational mailings.”
It was all very daunting … but SacTax rolled up its collective sleeves and organized a “No on M” task group. With a total of about $7,000 (from small donors) plus hundreds of coordinated hours of volunteer time and help from community leaders, in two months the citizens sent this “ugly pig” of a tax measure to its rightful grave by approximately 2,000 votes (or 52.45%).
Again, friends, we were “the organized opposition,” with another resounding success!
In fact, if you look at all of the local tax increase and bond measures placed before Sacramento region voters in November 2020, they all passed – except for the ones SacTax actively opposed.
There is an important lesson here, we did not have to burn down buildings or destroy businesses. We did not have to deface or tear down any monuments. All we had to do was be well organized; upfront; use sound logical arguments; make our concerns known; and educate citizens. All we had to do was put leadership into practice and encourage our citizens in exercising ownership over their governments.
We had to shed light on important topics; allow government officials to realize that we must all be good stewards of public dollars; and realize that “business as usual” was not acceptable.
Lesson learned – our democratic, republican form of government works when we collectively take responsibility for it! Together, we make a difference!