Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jamie Spends Real Money

The number of registered voters in this county is 12,379. The average number of working people here is 5,445. Of those, 796 are government workers. Those 796 government workers earn more than all the people employed in agriculture, the construction industry, and health care combined (in excess of 1,000 people).

If you're doing sums in your head, you might notice that the working people in San Juan County are a minority of voters (44%), and private-sector workers are an even smaller minority of voters (38%). 

The taxation policies of our county are regressive in several ways. First, the taxes themselves (sales and property taxes) are regressive methods of taxation. Second, the taxes often fund programs that have debilitating regressive effects that are even worse than the taxes. For example, county requirements for land development impose expenditures of tens of thousands of dollars in fees, reports, and evaluations which are beyond the out-of-pocket funding ability of working class people. None of the burden of development costs can be included in a mortgage. All of it has to be paid for out of pocket.

If you are wealthy enough to own enough land, you might be able to take advantage of one of the special programs to reduce your property taxes (e.g., open space designations or conservation easements). The effect of this is also regressive, since it amounts to cost shifting away from larger parcels towards smaller parcels more typically owned by working people.

And it gets worse every year. The pet "solution" proposed for many of our "problems" is an ever growing call for more taxing districts -- more regressive policies. One "solution" currently being discussed for our affordable housing "crisis" is to create a tax to provide a revenue stream to build more affordable housing. This isn't a solution. In reality, it isn't even intended to be a solution. This is simple vote buying. The affordable housing projects on our islands are going broke because they were non-solutions in the first place. They never were economically viable, and federal and state funding for these unsustainable developments have dried up. The future slums of San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez have powerful voting blocks behind them however ... and if politicians once again stiff workers in the county to pander to these voting blocks, it won't amount to much electorally. 

Without some disruptive economic event to grow the working middle class, private sector workers are unlikely to ever again be fairly represented here. San Juan County will continue to be the playground of special interests that impose restrictions on others, but give themselves a pass. Anyone who professes to believe that new government programs will help workers is either on the make or a complete fool. The last thing the existing patronage system wants is to shift power to workers and the middle class, even if they are willing to pay lip service to it from time to time. In reality, the entire funding and functional purpose of the government apparatus here is to provide special treatment for the connected while keeping workers in their place.

Make sure Councilman Jamie gets special treatment

Dispatch the boat for Sam. She doesn't want to wait for the ferry.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Guest Post - OPALCO By-Law Change

Proportional Representation ... It's Time

OPALCO elections are upon us, and here is a guest post by Rob Thesman, the author of the OPALCO by-law change.

If you’re an OPALCO member, you’re being asked to vote up or down on a bylaw change contained in the ballots that are being distributed. While opponents are characterizing the bylaw change as “dangerous”, “unnecessary” and “irresponsible”, the truth is those people are simply trying to avoid fairness and balance on OPALCO board representation.

You only need to understand the numbers 2,432 and 345 to see the importance of making this change. The change itself is simple and straightforward, it’s two sentences: “At the end of the existing Article III – Directors, Section 1, General Powers, the following paragraph shall be inserted:

“As soon as practicable and at least once every ten years thereafter, the Board of Directors shall reapportion the number of directors seats attributable to each of the Districts listed in Article III – Directors, Section 2, Qualifications and Tenure, so as to align the representation of cooperative members as closely as possible with the actual number of energy members within each District. Furthermore, from time to time the Board of Directors shall update the boundaries of the above-referenced Districts so as to facilitate the goal of proportionate representation of the members in each of the Districts on the Board of Directors.”

That’s it – two sentences, directing the board to more fairly apportion the board seats. The separate districts covering San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands each currently have two directors while the district covering Shaw currently has one director. Looking at the number of members in each of those districts, San Juan Island has one director for every 2,432 members. Orcas has one director for every 1,812 members. But look at Lopez – Lopez has one director for every 1,185 members. And Shaw has one director for every 345 members!

The current system of apportioning directors gives some members more and others less representation due merely to where they live. The proposed bylaw change simply requires that the board fairly apportion the number of directors in each district, and to update the boundaries of each district, as necessary to make the board representation better aligned with the physical location of the co-op members. This does not change the total number of directors.

At the end of the reapportionment, every member of OPALCO will be represented by a board director. The language of the proposed changed disenfranchises not one single member. Board seats will be reallocated and districts will be redrawn with the simple goal of having each board seat represent the same number of members.

Opponents of the proposed change should consider how they will look their fellow county residents in the eye and explain to them that members on certain islands are so wise or special that they should have a disproportionately higher representation on the board than others.

Opponents of the bylaw change argue that no re-apportionment is necessary because all members vote on all directors’ seats. While it’s accurate to say that we all vote on all board seats, the existing bylaws specifically contemplate that directors will “represent” a particular district – it’s a requirement contained in Article III, section 2. But on a more practical level, who do you think represents you more, the director you run into at the grocery store or the one from an island you never go to? Does every director have an obligation to look out for the entire co-op? Absolutely, but the idea of representing a particular district is so important that it’s enumerated as one of only three requirements to run for a seat on the board.

One of the opponents of the change calls it costly because it will require an independent auditor. This is completely false. There is no requirement in this two sentence change that this redistricting would need to be “audited” before or after implementation and to suggest that is, at best, disingenuous.

Another argument made against the change is the ridiculous statement that that this might require redistricting “every six months”. A plain reading of the proposed change requires that the board calculate whether reapportionment should be done “at least once every ten years” after the initial reapportionment is completed.

In the final analysis, this proposed bylaw change isn’t dangerous, irresponsible, costly or vague. It’s two sentences that attempt to create a more representative balance of members’ opinions on the co-op board. Could it be that the opponents of the proposed change are really against it just because it endangers the overrepresentation they’ve enjoyed in the past?

We members of the co-op exercise our governance in two ways – directly through voting at the annual meeting and indirectly through the actions taken by the directors chosen from each district. The governance exercised by the directors is far more important in the day-to-day and long-term policy decisions of our co-op. It is a simple matter of fairness that no district should have a disproportionate weight in board representation. I urge you to vote “yes” on the bylaw change.

(Rob Thesman is an OPALCO member and the author of the bylaw change.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Cranking Up the SMP PR Machine

It's wonderful that we have an independent, critical thinking press. We have Orcas Issues. We have the Journal too. And we have the Friends.

Where is the Friends video of this armoring project on Blakely?