My View: Does Utility Tax Give Us Enough Assurance?

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A Sports Complex is one of the potential projects listed by the city
A Sports Complex is one of the potential projects listed by the city

It has been more than a year since voters, by a margin of 58-42 percent, passed the city’s half-cent sales tax increase. That margin, while comfortable in a simple majority election, falls well short of the needed two-thirds margin for a parcel tax or any specific use tax.

That reality coupled with polling from the spring of 2014 likely explains why the city council is strongly considering a utility user tax (UUT) rather than a parcel tax when it seeks to finally address infrastructure needs.

There is an added advantage to this type of tax – it is far less regressive. The UUT would be based on actual usage of utilities like water, electricity, phone, cable, cell, etc. Whereas the parcel tax is the same whether you have a $200,000 home or a $2 million home, the UUT is a percentage of actual bills.

Staff argues that it is “a durable tax that is more consistent than the City’s most significant general taxes. UUT inflates with time and it tracks with growth in consumption of the elements that are subject to the tax. It is less susceptible to economic downturns than property tax and sales tax though it must be acknowledged that effective resource conservation may have some impact upon future consumption patterns. In a city such as Davis, which is largely built-out, a UUT would provide needed stability to the general fund budget.”

All of that is good. The problem is that it is a general use tax and therefore, however the council sells it to the public and whatever promises they make, at the end of the day it goes into the general fund.

Writes staff, “A Utility Users Tax could be specified for certain types of services or projects, such as transportation, public safety, parks maintenance or animal control, but the identification of such restriction(s) in the adopting ordinance would invoke a requirement for two-thirds majority voter approval because the UUT would no longer be characterized as a general tax—it would be transformed into a special tax subject to the super-majority vote per the California constitution.”

And that may be a way around this problem – you would still have a better tax, but you would then be able to control where it goes.

As was discussed in the spring of 2014, one way partially around this is to have “companion measures on the same ballot for the purposes of having the voters advise the elected officials on how the new revenues should be used.”

However, “An advisory measure cannot, however, be constructed in a way that would place any requirement upon the elected officials that would override their discretion on the use of the revenues. Examples of such advisory measures are attached. If the City of Davis were to include advisory measures, staff would recommend a measure that asks about paying for infrastructure projects for roads, bike paths, sidewalks, and parks/sport parks. The use of such advisory measures is limited and there is no evidence that they are effective in building support for the UUT.”

As such, council back in 2014 quickly discarded the idea of an advisory measure. Back then, the council was clearly concerned about the practicality of locking themselves in to specificity. That was the problem.

Ultimately they decided to go with no advisory measure after toying with language that would require at least three-quarters of the tax revenue to go to infrastructure.  After reading expenditure needs, Councilmember Brett Lee argued that such a requirement would not work.

Back in February 2014, the council decided that, when it came time to fund infrastructure, the parcel tax was the way to go.

Then Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk stated, if we want to increase the revenue we take in and direct it toward infrastructure, “I think the challenge is, is the sales tax measure the route that we take to address those large infrastructure items.”  He added, “My conclusion was the parcel tax, even though it was a two-thirds vote, was the way that I kind of came down, because that allows you through a measure to say, ‘hey voters this is what we’re going to do with this money, this is the only thing we can do with this money…’”

The problem as it stands right now is that the council has a long list of potential capital projects that could be supported by the new revenue measure – anything from badly needed road maintenance, to bike path and sidewalk repair, big ticket items that top $100 million and perhaps even more.

But along with those are the “nice to haves” – the $9 to $10 million for Community Pool turning it into a 50-meter pool with a six lane warm-up. Also listed is the $24 million Sports Park proposal.

The problem with a utility user tax is that council can say see, here are the things that we can see the tax going to fund. They can even list them on the ballot as possibilities. But they cannot state or preclude a future council from taking the money and using it for a 50-meter pool or a sports park.

But it is actually quite a bit worse than that. There is no legal mechanism that would prevent a future council from taking the estimated $5.3 million tax revenue and giving it to the employees in the form of compensation increases. In fact, when the voters passed the original half-cent sales tax in 2004, that $3 million was given to employee groups including the firefighters, who in 2005 received a 36 percent pay increase over a four-year period of time – what turned out to be about a $3 million general fund hit.

Just last year, the Davis City Council put the sales tax on the ballot and decided not to include an advisory vote to direct how the money would be spent. One of the councilmembers noted that the decreased amount of the revenue from the $5 million to about $3.6 million would prevent the money going to employee compensation.

But now there is talk that the employees will get at least a one time, one percent COLA. Since the only reason the city is in the black right now is the sales tax, in effect, some of the sales tax revenue could go directly to the very thing that the council told us it would not go to – employee compensation.

There is a way around this and that is to go away from a general use tax. To reiterate the point from Dan Wolk back in February 2014: “My conclusion was the parcel tax, even though it was a two-thirds vote, was the way that I kind of came down, because that allows you through a measure to say, ‘hey voters this is what we’re going to do with this money, this is the only thing we can do with this money…’”

Is the council willing to risk the two-thirds vote in order to assure the voters that they are passing a tax that will go to roads rather than pools/sports park or employee compensation? My guess will be no.

In February of 2014, I wrote a column, “Will Not Support Sales Tax Measure in June.” I quickly backed off that and the measure enjoyed only feeble opposition. But if people more credible than Jose Granda and Thomas Randall decide to oppose the tax, things could get more interesting.

At this point I am not threatening to oppose a utility user tax, but I am not comfortable with it despite the fact that I have been beating the road repair drum for six years now – long before city council acknowledged the crisis. My concern is that money that is supposed to go for roads could get diverted for other uses.

A UUT is probably more fair than a parcel tax, but making it specific use and a two-thirds vote strengthens it, in my view.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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52 thoughts on “My View: Does Utility Tax Give Us Enough Assurance?”

  1. Tia Will

    A Utility User Tax is probably more fair than a parcel tax, but making it specific use and a two-thirds vote strengthens it in my view.”

    I see a Utility User Tax as by far more “fair” than a parcel tax. But again I do not see why we need to be engaged in totally dichotomous thinking. Could we not consider utilizing multiple forms of self taxation at lower levels than saying we essentially need to put all of our eggs in one basket or asking that someone else pay the bills for what we want ?

  2. Barack Palin

    Why are we even talking about a utility tax that would end up costing most taxpayers between $250 to as much as $600 per year when polling showed that taxpayers would reject a $150 parcel tax?  Nice end around attempt by the city but once taxpayers realize how mud a utility tax will actually cost them hopefully it will go down in flames.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      The polling showed the parcel tax wouldn’t obtain two-thirds vote, but the user tax doesn’t need to get to the two-thirds threshold.

      1. Barack Palin

        What they found was instructive – at a $149 per year parcel tax, less than half of the voters would support it. If they dropped it down to $99 per year, that number increased to 57.6%

        Your own words David.  So at $149 less than half the voters would approve, how many less would approve of a tax of $250 to $600 a year?

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          You have a better memory than I do apparently. LOL. In any case, my concern is that this doesn’t become a bait and switch where they advertise one usage, the interest groups come in and get it for pools, sports parks and employee compensation.

  3. zaqzaq

    From my viewpoint the UUT is the way to go and let the city council figure out how to spend it.  Many resident do not use everything that this tax could fund.   If we are not going to create large retail or industrial centers like Woodland and W. Sacramento to generate revenue then we will need to tax ourselves to provide for roads, parks, bike paths, sports complexes and pools.  My family will not use the bike paths or sports complex but would likely use the 50 meter pool if they were all up an running today.  Having a good network of bike paths, parks, greenbelts, sports complexes and pools is that support active adults and children is what makes this a good community to live in.  It also enhances our property value.  A worst case scenario would be a parcel tax that did not pass.

    The city also has future liabilities concerning employee compensation.  I am not opposed to cost of living adjustments while strongly opposing the firefighters ridiculously high compensation package.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      My concern remains they tell us they need it to do x, y, z and then do something else. That’s what happened in 2004, they sold the sales tax on the need for basic services and it went to firefighters salaries.

      1. Paul Thober

        We need to raise taxes and the UUT is the fairest tax available to us. I’m willing to sacrifice micromanagement by the electorate for a somewhat more progressive tax. We need to let our representitives represent us. If you feel they don’t then there is the ballot box.

        1. Barack Palin

          Been down that route before in 2004.  Once they give away the store they just move on and never have to answer for it.  New incoming council members just say it wasn’t their fault.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

          1. Matt Williams

            Barack: “Been down that route before in 2004. Once they give away the store they just move on and never have to answer for it. New incoming council members just say it wasn’t their fault. Wash, rinse, repeat.”

            One of the ways to break the wash, rinse, repeat cycle is to elect Council members who are going to transparently follow evidence-based decision making rather than political calculations. The voters will have an opportunity to step boldly in that direction next June.

            With that said, Tuesday night presents an opportunity for this Council to break the wash, rinse, repeat cycle. Item 8 of the agenda is for the Funding Agreement with the Yolo Habitat Conservancy. Staff’s recommendation on this item is another example of a non-transparent approach to funding and accounting for a program. If the Yolo Habitat Conservancy is worthy of Davis’ support, then why not create its own transparent funding and accounting in the City’s Budget? Why co-mingle and bury it in the Open Space Fund?

            Many Davis residents (but not all … see Shawn Smallwood letter below) believe the Yolo Habitat Conservancy JPA is a very worthy endeavor. However, it has a focus and goal that differs from the focus and goal of the voter-approved Measure O. Because of those differences, it is all the more important that we avoid perpetuating “wash, rinse, repeat.”

            By having these two separate programs/endeavors each have their own free-standing, transparent accounting in the City’s Budget, we the people can hold ourselves accountable for spending our money wisely and achieving the valuable goals that led us to support these respective worthy endeavors.

            City Council has an opportunity on Tuesday night to vote for transparency and accountability … and in the process take a step away from “wash, rinse, repeat.”

            Shawn Smallwood’s Letter to the Editor ( see http://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/letters/protect-land-on-davis-periphery/ )

            Jean Jackman (“At the Pond,” June 28) updated us on the open space tax, Measure O, which she promoted and the Davis voters passed 15 years ago. The city promised the Measure O tax would protect a ring of open space surrounding Davis.

            Jackman’s update revealed a lack of transparency on use of the fund and a lack of access to purchased properties, which tend to be far from the Davis periphery. There is no ring of open space around Davis and there never will be as a result of the open space tax.

            Worse, Jackman reported that the City Council is considering transferring nearly a third of the fund to the Yolo County Habitat Conservation Plan Joint Powers Authority.

            The Yolo County HCP was initiated 25 years ago to fast-track development by offering developers incidental take permits for all of our upland-adapted rare and endangered species, including Swainson’s hawk and burrowing owl. The developers pay a small per-acre fee to the JPA, and the JPA conserves habitat for our rare species.

            However, drafts of the HCP always favored mitigating in the Yolo Flood Control Basin, where none of our rare and endangered species live.

            Transferring Measure O funds to the JPA would be seen by some as a bait-and-switch to serve the HCP’s purpose of mitigating the development impacts within the same Davis periphery that Measure O was supposed to protect. This transfer would add Measure O funds to developer fees managed by the JPA in lieu of a certified HCP or California Environmental Quality Act review.

            And what has the HCP/JPA accomplished over 25 years — the longest preparation of any HCP in the country? The city should engage the community on how to use the open space fund to strategically acquire even a small parcel of open space on Davis’s periphery.

            Shawn Smallwood
            Davis

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          The problem that 2004 teaches us is that by the time we figured out what had happened it took years to undo it. We can have the same tax structure with assurances.

          1. Don Shor

            Really, the key to selling this will be whether the current council and city manager hold the line of expenses, particularly payroll costs. I keep coming back to the fact that total employment has been significantly reduced in numbers, but payroll costs have actually increased. If the voters are asked to increase revenues by X million dollars, and payroll costs are going up by X million dollars, you just can’t seriously make the claim that the money is earmarked for any particular purpose. You’d be raising taxes to pay people more. To the voters, it’s all one big pot of money. And in the case of a utility tax, it would just be going into the general fund, so any claims as to the purpose of the funds would just be unenforceable promises.

        3. hpierce

          It would be helpful to use common terminology:

          Don just used “payroll”, which I assume means the sum total of all salary, benefits (med/dental, contributions towards retirement/retiree medical), etc.  If that means that “payroll” should see zero increase, then increased costs in medical premiums, PERS assessments, etc. would be 100% absorbed by the current employees.  It also means any filling of positions that were necessary, but lost to attrition, should have all the new employee costs subtracted from existing employees.  To keep total “payroll costs” static.  It would also mean that David’s idea of raising PD comp would have to come out of the existing employees’ (non-PD) compensation.  Same is true for traditional merit increases that employees would expect as they go from entry level to top of their range (~20%).  Same for re-class/promotions.  Is that what you truly want/intend?  Is so, come out and say it.

          “Salary” is what your position is paid, regardless of benefits.

          “total comp” is salary plus benefits that the employee sees in the near term (med/dental), plus employer contributions to retirement, disability insurance, PERB, etc.

          It’s one thing to say that salaries should be frozen at the current $ level.  It’s quite another to say that total comp should be frozen at the current $ level.  In my opinion, if positions are to be added/filled to replace those lost to attrition, and/or compensate some individual folk (like PD) more highly, while keeping total payroll frozen at the same $ amount, that seems more than a bit draconian.  And, if the latter, it will have to be imposed, as only those desperate to keep their job, knowing they cannot look elsewhere, would ‘negotiate’ that.  And you have to ask if you want those folk taking care of the day to day operation of the City.

           

           

          1. Don Shor

            I think people need to understand that increased benefit costs for existing and retired employees absorbed all of the savings achieved by reducing staff by approx. 20 – 25%. That is a rather sobering fact, if I have it right. You have described what would have to happen with our current management and staffing structure if the goal was to keep total compensation static. So the council has a couple of choices.
            — They can direct the city manager to restructure management and reduce costs at that level.
            — They can continue to cut lower level staffing positions.
            — They can target cost cuts at the highest-paid employee groups, such as firefighters.
            — They can seek to get the public to increase taxes, understanding that the public is being asked to increase taxes to pay people more, or pay more people.
            — They can hope for economic development to spur revenues to the city.

            It would be useful to augment the city budget report — the one that showed what happens when sales tax expires — with a chart that shows the ten-year trend in benefit costs for various staffing levels.

  4. hpierce

    Perhaps it is time to become a Charter City.  Then, a truly progrssive tax, a local income tax, could be considered in lieu of Parcel, Sales, or Utility Use tax revenue sources.  There are other advantages to becoming a Charter City, and becoming one doesn’t mean that any particular tax (or, any at all) needs to be adopted, nor rejected.  Adds more paint to the palette.

    A local income tax could exclude the first “x” ($45,000?) of income from tax, and focus on those with the ability/wherewithal to return to the community the benefits they have recieved.  The richer folk could save their marginal tax rate amounts from Fed & State income tax.

    Just a thought.  Not advocating, but shouldn’t we consider?

    BTW, revenue enhancements (local taxes of any kind) benefit amenities/needs used by/relied upon by folk in El Macero, ‘old’ Willowbank, Binning Tract, North Davis Meadows, etc. Yet… they will contribute NADA. Some of the most local advocates for much improved swim facilities have no “skin in the game” as it reltes to financing.

    1. Don Shor

      From my notes when the voters considered (and rejected) charter city status:
      Things a charter city may do that a general law city cannot:

      Government and elections
      A charter city may change the form of government; e.g., strong mayor.

      May establish any election rules and procedures; e.g. choice voting. district elections.

      May establish criteria for office; e.g., residency requirement.
      General law cities have minimum qualifications established by state law. Nothing in this charter [as proposed in 2008] or the present municipal code sets minimum qualifications.

      May enact public financing of election campaigns.

      Management

      May decide how to enact ordinances.
      General law cities have requirements for open reading of ordinances and a minimum of five days after they are introduced.

      May set council quorum. General law cities require a majority.

      Council members may set their own salaries. General law cities have state limits.

      Competitive bidding is not required for contracts.

      Do not have to pay prevailing wage on public works projects.

      Taxes and zoning
      Taxation for both charter and general law cities is governed by Prop 218, but:
      Charter cities may impose a tax on the transfer of property;
      May impose business license taxes and fees for any purpose.
      In Fremont, Mayor Bob Wasserman … “requested that Fremont once again consider becoming a charter city primarily to see if doing so would provide more options to boost revenue.” – Oakland Tribune, March 15, 2008.
      Zoning changes are not required to be consistent with the general plan unless such a requirement is in the charter.
      Source: California League of Cities (www.cacities.org)
      Search: Chart: General Law – Charter City comparison (.doc)

      1. hpierce

        Sounds right, but the City charter CAN (and, in my opinion, SHOULD) be proposed differently than it was 7 years ago… we don’t have to have a “strong mayor”, for instance [I wouldn’t want THAT!].  We could require consistancy with GP… etc.  The 2008 proposal was seriously flawed… an “over-reach”, if you will.  Just because the proposed Charter was f’ed up 7 years ago shouldn’t mean we dismiss the concept outright.

        BTW, Don, thank you for your ‘notes’.

  5. Tia Will

    hpierce

    Just a thought.  Not advocating, but shouldn’t we consider?”

    Although I am far, far from knowing all the implications of becoming a Charter City, I think that all options are worthy of consideration.

     

  6. #me

    Before we talk about a $5,000,000+ per year UUT, how about an answer to the question of whether or not we are still sending $3,000,000+ per year to Yolo County?

    I asked Yvonne Quiring that question as part of public comment in a Finance & Budget Commission (FBC) meeting and she deftly ducked the question (IIRC, I was not yet a FBC member at the time). Yvonne’s answer was that neither the Pass Through Agreement revenue nor the Pass Through Agreement expense were shown in the budget because the revenue never makes it to the City, but rather goes from the State to the County, which extracts the Pass Through Agreement payment amount from the total and then passes on the net remainder to the City. After her explanation, I made the strong request that the City’s accounting methods be adjusted to reflect both the revenue and the expense each year. That request disappeared into the ether.

    Matt Williams

    Is the pass through agreement payoff still being made to the county? If so, that’s a >$70,000,000 pot of money that could go to infrastructure. No public vote required. How about some clarity from our elected officials?

  7. Anon

    zaqzaq: “From my viewpoint the UUT is the way to go and let the city council figure out how to spend it.

    Here is the problem with that way of thinking.  Inevitably City Councils end up spending money on frills while failing to address basic needs, since frills are far more “sexy” than mundane basics.  Subsequently City Councils cry “crisis” because of not having addressed basic needs, such as road maintenance and building repairs.  Then they demand another round of tax increases as necessary to avert the “crisis” they created by not having been responsible about taking care of basic needs first and foremost.  We have already seen this scenario play out – why would we want to repeat it by giving the City Council a blank check with a UUT?

    1. hpierce

      “Here is the problem with that way of thinking.”  Ironic that this is posted today, of all days.  With the exception of that sentence, I respect the comment.  I differ somewhat (but nowhere near fully) with the rest, but please do not tell someone how they should think or feel.  Actions are a different matter.  I don’t think I’ve ever told someone they are thinking wrong.  I may question their facts, question their logic, but it’s nearly the height of hubris to tell someone how to think or feel.

      Happy Fourth of July.

  8. Tia Will

    Anon

     Inevitably City Councils end up spending money on frills while failing to address basic needs, since frills are far more “sexy” than mundane basics”

    why would we want to repeat it by giving the City Council a blank check with a UUT?”

    Because something has happened in the past does not make it inevitable. I do not believe that we would necessarily repeat this based on the current composition of the city council. If you truly believe it to be “inevitable” what form of city government would you prefer ?

     

    1. Matt Williams

      I agree with your point Tia, which makes Item 8 of Tuesday’s agenda all the more important. If the Council wants the citizens to the additional Utility User Tax, then meaningful tangible progress toward increased transparency and accountability is essential. Failure to make that meaningful tangible progress will feed the flames of distrust that currently exist in the hearts and minds of a vast number of Davis residents . . . distrust that will surely be the reason for “no” votes at the polls when the Utility User Tax Measure is put to a vote of the people.

      Item 8 of the agenda is for the Funding Agreement with the Yolo Habitat Conservancy. Staff’s recommendation on this item is an example of a non-transparent approach to funding and accounting for a program. If the Yolo Habitat Conservancy is worthy of Davis’ support, and worthy of the investment of Davis taxpayer dollars, then why not create its own transparent funding and accounting in the City’s Budget? Why co-mingle and bury it in the Open Space Fund as proposed by Staff?

      By having these two separate programs/endeavors each have their own free-standing, transparent accounting in the City’s Budget, we the people can hold ourselves accountable for spending our money wisely and achieving the valuable goals that led us to support these respective worthy endeavors. City Council has an opportunity on Tuesday night to vote for transparency and accountability … and in the process take a step away from the “its in there somewhere” approach to accounting that has produced the high levels of distrust here in Davis.

  9. Frankly

    A UUT tax is jiggery pokery.  Make the case with a parcel tax.  Call it the “Economic Growth Alternative Tax”.  Let’s see if 2/3 of the population is willing to tax themselves to prevent the peripheral growth and high rises that are otherwise needed to pay for city operations and long-term liabilities.

    1. Don Shor

      Let’s see if 2/3 of the population is willing to tax themselves to prevent the peripheral growth

      My impression has been that we will need both a modest parcel tax and peripheral business parks, and I believe that has been the intent of the city council up until now. I am curious where this discussion of the lower-threshold UUT came from. If staff, they have a serious conflict of interest on this topic. If any particular council member, he/she should be identified.

      1. hpierce

        “If staff, they have a serious conflict of interest on this topic.”  I trust you understand the serious implications (legally) of the phrase you used.

  10. hpierce

    Well, since you will likely vote against ANY assessment, and strongly encourage others to do the same, I can see where you’d want the 2/3 bar instead of the 50%.  Good strategy.  Hedging bets, as it were.

    1. hpierce

      Oh, and shouldn’t you give Scalia credit for teaching you the term “jiggery-pokery” in his dissent on the ‘Obama-care’ decision?

      1. Frankly

        I love that man.  There is a lot he can teach everyone.

        In California, the 2/3 vote is the legal standard to be applied to tax increases for this type of want.  A UUT tax should be used only for needed investment in utility infrastructure.  For example, say we all wanted fiber connections for high speed Internet.

        Also, although half of the CA population pays some UUT, it is generally for the larger cities.  There are few small cities that levy a UUT.

        1. hpierce

          No, the legal standard for a non-earmarked general fund tax is 50%.  Period.  The fact that it is a UUT does not change the legal standard.  You dissemble.

  11. Tia Will

    shouldn’t you give Scalia credit for teaching you the term “jiggery-pokery”

    Attribution certainly. I think “credit” is way too strong a praise for an essentially meaningless term ( yes, I know the definition and will stand by my comment)  to disparage the opinion of another without making any substantive comment yourself.

    1. hpierce

      I was putting a commenter’s comment in the context of their biases. I did not disparage the opinion.  You “disparage” my main thrust, that the commenter was opposed to any tax (parcel or UUT) assessment, and actually complimented them on good strategy.  You seem to have strong feelings against much of MY opinions (and occaisionally, my ‘facts’), and do not often hestitate to “disparage” them.

      That being said, have a wonderful Fourth of July, the beginning of our somewhat unfettered rights to have differences of opinion.

  12. hpierce

    Oh, and Tia, it is probably a ‘fact’ that had Scalia not used the term very recently, neither would have Frankly.  And, although I disagree with Scalia often, I actually have overall respect for him as a person.

      1. Frankly

        “one of the most dangerous men in America”  I can’t stop laughing at that given his performance and opinion sync up with the founders.  Yours on the other hand, synchs up with Greece.

        Happy Forth Don!

        okhi

      2. hpierce

        To be clear, are you saying he is a “dangerous man”, as a person [in which case, should he be incarcerated?], do you believe his ‘positions’ are “dangerous” to yours, and/or can you distinguish between a ‘person’ and their ‘belief system’?  You opened this door, Don, and for my part, I’ve closed mine with this post.

      3. Barack Palin

        Question for all you haters of conservative supreme court justices.  Why is it only the conservative justices who will sometimes sway away from party lines while the liberal justices always hold to their party lines?

        Watch now, this conversation will get shut down.

        1. Matt Williams

          Good question Barack. For me the Supreme Court exists as the most important part of the Founding Fathers’ system of checks and balances. Our nation was founded by people who had an acute understanding of how tyranny of the majority and abuse of power work. They were fleeing the oppression of abuse of power and tyranny of the majority. However, those problems followed them to the Colonies, and the Revolutionary War was the result, and the resultant Constitution and governmental structure was set up to ensure that abuse of power and tyranny would not crop up here in time.

          Why were the original colonists persecuted? In a word, they proposed “change” from the established societal power structures … most notably the Church. Conservative Supreme Court justices often oppose change, and because of their aversion to change they frequently abdicate their “checks and balances” role in the workings of our government. Liberal Supreme Court Justices frequently embrace change, as well as heartily embracing the Founding Fathers’ intended role of avoiding abuse of power and tyranny of the majority.

          JMHO

  13. Tia Will

    hpierce

    do you believe his ‘positions’ are “dangerous” to yours”

    I know this was not addressed to me, but I would like to take it on anyway. What I believe is that that some of Justice Scalia’s positions, presumably based at least in part on his religious beliefs are dangerous, not necessarily to “mine” but rather to the health and well being of others who do not share his religious beliefs. This in and of itself I believe is unconstitutional given the constitutional right to follow one’s own religious beliefs, not his. For one material example see my post on the One Year After Hobby Lobby thread.

    His opinions have consistently favored the Christian belief system over that of others regardless of their medical need. This to me shows a disregard, or perhaps lack of understanding of the meaning of the First Amendment “establishment clause” as it applies to his own faith. And this interpretation of the constitution to fall into alignment with his own religious belief, even though that was not the religious belief of a number of our founders, is to me a very, very dangerous misconstruction of the equal application of rights under the law.

    1. Barack Palin

      I have a problem with any justice who makes rulings according to anything other than the LAW.  You’re right that Scalia lets his religious beliefs enter into his decisions, but you should be equally appalled that the liberal justices also rule according to their political leanings and not the law.

      1. Matt Williams

        BP, the LAW can be, and often is precisely what the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid … a tyranny of the majority. If the LAW, which almost exclusively comes from the action of the Executive Branch in concert with the Legislative Branch, promulgates such a tyranny, then the Founding Fathers very clearly wanted the Supreme Court to step forward and correct the tyranny.

        With that said, the Supreme Court can not proactively initiate such a correction. They can only weigh in if a case is brought before them.

  14. Tia Will

    BP

    but you should be equally appalled that the liberal justices also rule according to their political leanings and not the law.”

    It is the job of the Supreme Court Justices whether liberal or conservative to determine whether or not a given law is constitutional, not to blindly remain within the confines of existing law. That is the job of the rest of us and arguably not even for the rest of us as we are not under obligation to obey an immoral law but have not only the right, but the obligation to speak out and attempt to change such laws.

    1. Barack Palin

      That is the job of the rest of us and arguably not even for the rest of us as we are not under obligation to obey an immoral law but have not only the right, but the obligation to speak out and attempt to change such laws.

      So who determines what is immoral, you?

      1. Matt Williams

        Barack Palin: “So who determines what is immoral?”

        Each of us do so … on a very regular basis, and we don’t use the same methodology to make those determinations. Recently a team in Santa Clara University (SCU) developed a framework for moral decision making (2003). Their paper discussed five different approaches to thinking morally/ethically.

        — First, there was the Utilitarian approach, which was developed in the 19th century to determine what laws were morally best. To analyze an issue using the Utilitarian approach, we first identify the various courses of action available to us. Second, we ask who will be affected by each action and what benefits or harms will be derived from each. And third, we choose the action that will produce the greatest benefits and the least harm. The ethical action is the one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number.

        — Next there was the Rights approach. Developed in the 18th century, this approach dealt directly with an individual’s right to choose for him or herself.

        — Then there was the Fairness or Justice approach which is rooted in the teachings of the ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle who said, “equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally.” Meaning that everyone should be treated equally with no favoritism shown or discrimination. This is a common aspect of most businesses today because of the anti-discrimination acts and equal opportunity employer (EOE) laws in effect.

        — The teams’ next approach was the Common-Good[/color] approach. The team states that this approach focuses on “ensuring that the social policies, social systems, institutions and environments on which we depend are beneficial to all.” So to make a decision based on the common-good of all involved in the decision would be to make sure that that outcome provides a benefit to all individuals.

        — Last discussed was the Virtue approach which “assumes that there are certain ideals toward which we should strive…”

        Reference: “Thinking Ethically: A Framework for Moral Decision Making” Velasquez, et al. 2003
        Online Article from Santa Clara University. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/thinking.html]http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/thinking.html

        1. Frankly

          I think the most interesting and modern challenge to deciding morality is that of harm.

          I think a measure of harm done in judging right from wrong is the way for liberals and conservatives to bridge some of the seemingly widening gap on policy issues.  And when we consider the measure of harm it needs to be focused on material harm.   And it needs to be bolstered by reasonableness.

          Conservative-leaning people tend to use more filters for their determination of morality than do liberal-leaning people.  Liberal-leaning people tend to use one strong “equality” filter focused almost entirely on care and eliminating what they perceive as oppression.  This is why a liberal more often side with more lenient crime and punishment and more constraints from law enforcement.  Conservatives on the other hand are more diverse in their filtering.  They consider both care and equality, but also faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, sanctity and law and order.

          But in the end it should be material harm as the benchmark for morality.  If what you do does not materially harm another, then the act should not be considered immoral.  Or even if some find the act repugnant and want to label it as immoral in their judgement, as long as they themselves do not act upon that belief and cause material harm to another in response, we can have a sort of uncomfortable peace of differing moral perspectives.

          Where we would get caught up is the measure of materiality… specifically when the claim is emotional or psychological harm.  And here is were the term “reasonable” needs to be applied.  As an example for where reasonable is missing is on college campuses where people of certain groups only need to comment that “they don’t fee safe” in order to oppress others.

          I think any politician or employee or union head demand that city employees get a pay increase and/or benefit increase at this time knowing what we know about the comparison of public vs. private sector pay and benefits, and also knowing what we know about the state of our city finances… are in fact immoral demands.  There are immoral demands because of the material harm those increases would cause everyone else.

           

  15. Frankly

    What does this have to do with a UUT?

    I see one connection.  It is the heroes and victims narrative.  City employees are both victims and heroes and we should feel good about them enjoying their millionaire retirement benefits.  And then we feel and stop thinking.  We want to feel good about how we treat good people, and that is all that matters.

    Is this moral?   Is it moral for certain politicians that get help and contributions from the labor unions to push for wage increase for city employees when they clearly have total compensation far in excess of what workers in the private-sector get?

    The question about morality is already playing out as the gay rights and left activists march toward their ultimate goal of persecuting religious people and religious institutions over their beliefs and practices.

    Like this case in Oregon:

    In a sign of the overt fascism and religious persecution to come in the wake of a Left emboldened by the Supreme Court’s recent gay marriage ruling, a judge in Oregon has issued a gag order denying two Christian bakery owners from speaking out against same sex marriage.

    The gag order is meant to stop Aaron and Melissa Klein from publicly speaking out about their desire to not bake cakes for same sex weddings. The State’s order came after the Kleins were interviewed by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, and after the State fined the Kleins $135,000 for “emotional damages” incurred by a lesbian couple after the Kleins refused to bake their wedding cake.

    Next up will be those “kind and loving” gay “victims” (more of that good hero narrative) suing private churches (the bad villain narrative) for refusing to host their marriage.  They will lobby politicians to force the IRS (another corrupt organization that does left political bidding) to eliminate their tax exempt status.

    What we are seeing here is just more hate manifest.  It has been so clear from the beginning that gay marriage was not a goal, it was just part of the march for seeking revenge and retribution for hurt feelings… some justified if considering a historical context of oppression of gays, but mostly just an internal and individual feeling of difference and insecurity for belonging.   All of this is wrapped in a cloak of victim mentality and and the left and left media self-serving narrative for good and bad actors.  This is all the result of the Rules for Radicals playbook… to use the methods to divide and conquer.

    Gays and their political operatives hate religious people… especially Christians.  It is clear.   Even many of those that claim they are religious and Christian… they are afflicted with a level of group self-loathing that drives them to gleefully attack that to which they claim they belong.

    SCOTUS released a mess of consequences that essentially increased the cultural war wedge that is breaking this country apart.   Gay rights people and their leftist friends now move to rub salt into the wounds of those already seething.

    I would love to be wrong about all this.  I would love to have gays and gay rights activists to start speaking out for protection of religious freedoms now that they have won their right to marry.

    But it won’t be.

    It is too bad that we as humans tend to feel before we think.  And it is too bad that we are so easily duped into categorizing people into a narrative of good actors and bad actors.

    City employees, gays, religious… they are all just people no different that all other people that are blessed or cursed with individual human characteristics.  And since everyone is unique, all deserve respect and protection for who they are and what they believe.  But when a group of individuals forms to demand and seek personal gain at the expense of others, then they lose the protection of victim and hero.  And the question of morality can be answered simply by the assessment of material harm done to others if they prevail.

    1. Don Shor

      Gays and their political operatives hate religious people… especially Christians. It is clear.

      My, what a sweeping generalization. Millions of gay Americans, and they all hate Christians?

      Even many of those that claim they are religious and Christian… they are afflicted with a level of group self-loathing that drives them to gleefully attack that to which they claim they belong.

      And now we get pop psychology. Millions of gay Christian Americans are filled with self-loathing?
      You sure know a lot about a lot of people you don’t know at all.

      I would love to have gays and gay rights activists to start speaking out for protection of religious freedoms

      Wouldn’t it have been nice if conservative religious leaders had spoken out on behalf of their fellow gay citizens?

      And it is too bad that we are so easily duped into categorizing people into a narrative of good actors and bad actors.

      I know.

      1. Frankly

        My, what a sweeping generalization. Millions of gay Americans, and they all hate Christians?

        Sure, to counter the sweeping narrative that Christians hate gays.  But more importantly to humanize gays as equally demonstrative of intolerance.

        Wouldn’t it have been nice if conservative religious leaders had spoken out on behalf of their fellow gay citizens?

        They did and they have.

        I know.

        Yet you do it all the time.

         

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