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Monday, October 28, 2013
AF Road Bond: Two Logical Fallacies to Avoid

There's nothing new about false choices and flawed comparisons; in political rhetoric they're as abundant as mosquitoes. If you know they're coming, you can usually keep them from biting you.

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

Today's topic is two logical fallacies which might persuade you to vote against the bond issue, if you don't think them through.

Opponents advocate "pay as you go" as an alternative to bonding. This would have been exactly the right solution in the 1990s, when we quit doing it, and it will be again. The same opponents also say we should should lower, or at least not raise, property taxes. As a rule, I myself prefer lower taxes. 

Here's the false dilemma: Opponents imply that the voters' choice is between (a) raising property taxes 27.5 percent to pay for a bond issue, and (b) leaving property taxes alone and doing the needed reconstruction a little more slowly.

Here's the real choice: (a) pass the bond issue or (b) watch the city council raise property taxes next year to restore our roads eventually to a condition where "pay as you go" actually works in the long run. We are virtually certain to pay much more to get to that point without the bond issue. (See my previous post.)

(One city council candidate says he's willing to drive on crumbling or even gravel roads, to avoid increasing taxes or borrowing. Theoretically, this is also an option -- but don't expect the city council to go there.)

We should pause to appreciate that 27.5 percent is one number the bond's opponents are getting right. However, it's not your entire property tax bill that will go up that much; it's the City's portion. The effect on your overall bill -- judging by mine -- should be about a 5.8 percent increase.

The other fallacy is a questionable classification, in which two things are represented to be relevantly similar, but actually aren't.

Many of us are horrified at federal government's addiction to debt. Bond opponents want us to transfer our horror to the prospect of the City borrowing for road reconstruction. These are two different worlds. Here are some ways in which the City is different:

  • It has to balance its budget.
  • Instead of bumping regularly against its debt ceiling, the City is using less than 25% of it, and the proposed bond issue will still leave us below 30%.
  • While the US national debt has almost doubled, the City's debt has decreased in the last six years. With $20 million in new bonds for roads, it will still be less than in 2008 ($76 million against $78 million in 2008).
  • The City proposes to borrow to save money in the long run and rebuild infrastructure; the federal government spends most of its money on welfare, medical benefits, retirement, and other transfer programs, while short-changing infrastructure.

A better comparison would be to a family mortgaging reasonably for a home, something they need now that will still be valuable to them after the debt is paid off -- like streets. In fact, the City is borrowing far less overall, with respect to its annual revenue, than a typical family does to buy a home, and its credit rating (AA-) is the highest possible for a city its size.

Next in this series: Praise for a Multitude, Including You

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