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COURSEY: Tax measures a desperate choice

They all must be crazy, right?

City leaders in Sebastopol and Healdsburg are going to ask voters to approve tax increases in November. Their counterparts in Petaluma are likely to do the same thing. The Sonoma City Council went to the voters for higher taxes last month, and the leaders of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Cotati had their hands out in 2010.

Are they all completely out of touch with reality? Have they not heard that the economy stinks, the electorate is fed up with the high cost of government and that a good chunk of our political class (Republican office-holders in Sacramento and Washington, primarily) is so convinced of the evil of taxation that its members have signed a pledge never to support additional taxes?

Well, no. Our local elected leaders aren't out of touch, and they aren't crazy.

They're desperate.

Sebastopol City Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer summed it up on Tuesday night:

"This will be one of the hardest votes I will have to make here on the council, but I have to make sure we are fiscally solid," she said. "I still oppose the tax, but I am voting because the city needs it."

Healdsburg Mayor Gary Plass also voiced his aversion to new taxes: "I'm not a big tax guy. I don't think any of us are big tax people." Yet he and his colleagues unanimously voted to put a sales tax measure on the November ballot.

Nobody likes taxes, especially now. The headlines are full of bad news about a weak economy, the erosion of government services, the high cost of public pensions and even the outrageous self-serving decisions that continue to be made by some government officials (trustees of California State University give 10-percent raises to incoming university presidents as they also threaten to reduce enrollment opportunities; the state Department of Parks and Recreation allows a secret vacation buyout program for headquarters staff as it threatens to close 70 parks statewide).

But while we may hate taxes, and distrust government, we like what taxes and government provide: roads, water, parks, public safety, sewage disposal and a hundred other everyday necessities that we don't get from all of those private businesses that we so admire for being "run like a business."

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