Valley Voices

Parks? Sure! But public safety and lower taxes come first

Last week, a group of well-intentioned, respected, and civic-minded people in our community who want more parks and green space announced their intentions to place a tax initiative on the November ballot advocating for an increase of 3/8 percent sales tax on our already existing 7.975 percent sales tax in Fresno.

Garry Bredefeld

I also love parks and green space. Who doesn’t? Do we need more parks, better maintenance, upgrades in the parks? Of course.

While we need more parks, the reality is we also need 200 more police officers, fire personnel, upgrading of equipment in public safety, streets throughout the city that need repair, traffic lights that need synchronization and improvements, and median islands that need landscaping.

How do we do meet these needs? By continuing to focus on the most important priorities of our community – public safety and clean, safe neighborhoods. Not by raising people’s taxes.

Raising taxes is problematic for many reasons. We already are one of the most overtaxed states in the country. In comparing the percentage of income that people pay for state and local taxes, California was recently ranked as the fourth highest state.

In most other comparative studies, California is in the top 10 for highest taxes and burdens to its citizens. Consider just some of the taxes we pay – federal and state income, local/sales, gas (Senate Bill 1 just raised gas 12 cents per gallon resulting in 76.7 cents in total taxes per gallon) property, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, county and excise.

It’s not surprising why we have to work until April of every year just to make enough money to pay our taxes. Yet, the advocates of this tax increase want “visitors and non-Fresno residents pay their fair share…” The reality is all Fresno and California residents are being “fair-shared” to death. The theft of people’s hard-earned money by government must stop.

In addition, on the June 5 ballot, Californians will vote on Proposition 68, a $4 billion bond measure for state and local parks. In this proposition, $1.3 billion will be dedicated toward parks with the largest amount, $725 million, going towards “neighborhood parks in park-poor neighborhoods.”

Should this pass, Fresno would seek millions of dollars for new parks and to improve existing ones. For this and other reasons, we shouldn’t burden our citizens with another sales tax increase.

Tax increases take more money out of people’s pockets and slow down an economy, something we cannot afford to do with 8 percent chronic unemployment. The proposed sales tax increase will also hurt those who can least afford it. As Matthew Gardner, executive director of the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy notes, “Of the three main forms of state taxes – sales, property, and income – the sales tax hurts the poor the most” because it’s a regressive tax in that the sales tax ends “up taking a bigger chunk of change from people that have smaller sums of money and slower income growth.”

The proposed sales tax initiative would also create a new bureaucracy consisting of nine unelected people supported by taxpayer-funded city staff and they would have the power to “conduct hearings…and review and make recommendations to the mayor and city council…” on everything from how money is spent, the PARCS Department budget, capital improvement plans, and fees related to parks, trails and open space.

These are and should remain the roles of elected officials, who are always accountable to the public. Additionally, 20 percent of the funds from this initiative (nearly $8 million) would also be directed to job-training programs, after-school programs, and arts programs – not parks. The initiative also claims it will reduce crime and homelessness in parks. It will not.

Parks and green space are essential to our community and improved quality of life. We will continue to maintain our existing parks and build new ones just as we will be doing in Southwest Fresno with a new $9 million park.

Our top priority, however, must and will remain keeping our neighborhoods safe and our economy thriving. That means hiring more police officers, helping businesses expand and bringing new jobs and companies to Fresno.

Raising taxes, taking more of people’s hard earned money, and creating more government bureaucracy will only hinder those efforts.

Garry Bredefeld of Fresno, a clinical psychologist, represents District 6 on the Fresno City Council.