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Friday, November 1, 2013
AF Road Bond: Attention, Homework, Dots

The unpaid, the undone, and the unconnected, that is, with three illustrations from bond opponent claims.

This is the tenth in a series of eleven short pieces on American Fork's proposed bond issue for road repair. The first is here.

The proposed road bond issue is the defining issue in our mayoral and city council races this year. Two incumbents support it. Three challengers oppose it, arguing that debt is something the City should never use, because the City should run like a business or a household.

My question for these three good but ideologically poisoned men is, Have you ever used debt to purchase a home, a car, or an education, or to start or expand a business?

Without actually having been asked this, one explained that the government's money is really the people's money, so, unlike the people themselves, the government should never borrow. I'm willing to take that theoretical bait. You see, the government is the people's agent. (Remember "of the people, by the people, for the people"?) If it's morally permissible for the people to use mortgages to buy homes, how can it be inherently morally wrong for the same people, through their agent, to use debt to buy themselves a street? Please note that the City's debt is almost entirely in general obligation bonds, which must be approved by the voters, and has invariably been used -- like a home mortgage -- on items of long-term value, which will still have value after the debt is paid off, like roads in the present proposal.

I've argued that these challengers haven't paid sustained close attention to things at the City, haven't done their homework, and aren't connecting the dots. Here are two more examples.

First, they argue that that we can fund roads by postponing scheduled purchases of new vehicles, lawnmowers, and other capital equipment. This is a great idea. That's why the City has been all over it these past few years, as it has struggled to maintain services and programs through lean economic times. It makes sense right up to the point where it stops saving money, because maintenance costs have grown or resale values have shrunk. There are other ways to economize, too; ask Chief Call how the City saved a bundle on its SWAT van. If the challengers had been doing their homework, they'd see that the City is already doing what they say it should start doing.

Second, to demonstrate the City's reckless desire to borrow and spend, they note that the City is discussing two additional fire stations. Opponents say it's obvious that the one we have is enough, because just a few years ago the AFFD was all-volunteer, and everything was fine, and we haven't grown that much since.

Who didn't love the volunteers? But by modern standards fire protection in the City had become breathtakingly inadequate, as these challengers would know, if they had done their homework. Most residents didn't know this, because we were lucky enough to avoid the tragedy that would have exposed it. I'm not blaming here; these are growing pains such as are to be expected in the transition from small town to small city. In planning more fire stations, the City is being conscientious, not spendthrift, and I'm glad.

I'm less willing than some people to bet that we'll keep being lucky and getting by with less than we need.

Next in this series: Why Good Streets Matter

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