David Rodeback's Blog

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Thursday, October 31, 2013
AF Road Bond: Halloween and Elections Belong Together

Quite apart from masks and costumes and guessing who's behind them, Halloween and elections are both times for conjuring ghosts and bogeymen, and for dark, mysterious forces to run wild.

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

Have you ever wondered why we schedule Halloween and Election Day so close together? It's because they fit together so well.

Both are occasions for conjuring up ghosts and other bogeymen (bogeypersons?). These creatures and their mysterious powers are my subject today. (About the masks and costumes worn by humans, see my commentary on recent meet-the-candidates events here, here, and here.)


My favorite imaginary monster this year is communism. Someone is arguing publicly here that taxing to fund roads is communism.

Modern communism is one of the bloodiest ideas ever to captivate a large fraction of our planet. I did graduate work in this stuff, but it doesn't take advanced degrees to know that, under communism, the means of economic production -- farms, factories, businesses -- are owned by everyone, that is, by the government. If there are private property owners in the picture, even if their rights are less than absolute (as they must be), it's not communism. It may simply be community, which is not inherently monstrous.

Boo Two

The most prevalent bogeysomethings are big numbers. Bond opponents are able to detect the inherent monstrosity of numbers upon first seeing them, a power with which I have never been blessed. I see a big number, and I'm curious. I wonder whence it came.

They see a total City debt of $56 million and automatically perceive that it is extreme and should disappear entirely. I see the same numbers and wonder, what has our debt been in the past? ($78 million in FY 2008 and $64 million in FY 2013, for example.) How does it relate to the City's annual revenues? (Comparatively, much smaller than a typical home mortgage.) More of this tomorrow.

They see two residents' utility bills, which have more than doubled, and automatically detect foul play. Lacking their psychic powers, I wonder: Were earlier rates artificially low, because they were subsidized by taxes or by neglecting infrastructure? (Yes.) Did water rates have to be increased again to meet actual costs? (Yes, in 2012, because impact fees dried up in the economic slump.)

Somehow our friends simply intuit, without the need for study, that utility rates are, comparatively, unconscionably high. They are magically untroubled by a 2012 study which found American Fork's water rates to be comparable to other nearby cities' rates, and by no means the highest.

I lack their mystical power to look at the City's $52 million budget and know right away that it is at least $3 million too large. I have to work a few minutes to discover that only about $20 million of that budget is the general fund, and most of the rest is enterprise funds for things like water, which bring in their own revenue and are not allowed to run a profit. Opponents are able to draw their conclusions unburdened by such facts.

Boo Hoo

What they perceive effortlessly, I must study. It hardly seems fair. I tell you, there are magical powers at work here, and I don't have them. It's starting to creep me out.

Either that or I'm just not the opponents' target audience. Maybe their handful of under-analyzed, overhyped big numbers was intended to persuade voters who respond with emotion, not analysis.

And thus we end where we began: scaring people is part of Halloween, too.

Next in this series: Attention, Homework, Dots

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