August 26, 2008

Editorial the Unfriendly Skies State and Local Governments Take Their Cue From the Airlines

Welcome aboard Nickel-and-Dime Airways. Care to check a suitcase? That will cost you $15.

Would you like a pillow? Seven dollars, please.

A sandwich? That will be $5.

A bag of peanuts? Two dollars, thank you.

And we hope you enjoy this flight's movie, "The Great American Rip-off," for the modest entertainment fee of just $10.

Enjoy your flight!

THE second-saddest thing about the brief satire above is that it's no satire at all. Each and every one of the penny-pinching offenses it describes is being perpetrated by real airlines, far and wide, in their desperate attempt to survive tough financial times by wringing every possible penny out of their passengers.

But the saddest thing about "Nickel-and-Dime Airways" is that the fictitious airline's antics are being duplicated on the ground daily by nickel-and-diming state and local governments.

If there's any service your government current provides -- no matter how shoddily -- elected officials are demanding more of your money to pay for it.

So the city of Los Angeles has tripled garbage fees over the last two years -- ostensibly to pay for new cops, although a city audit has revealed that promise to be a fraud. The city is also jacking up water and power rates, parking fees and penalties for wasting water - - never mind that city government is itself one of L.A.'s biggest water-wasters.

And in case that's not enough, the city is looking for more money, still. Even though L.A.'s leaders concede that none of their anti-gang programs have worked so far, they're asking voters to approve a $36-a-year parcel tax to pay for new-and-improved anti- gang programs, although they haven't quite figured out what those programs will be just yet.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District, despite a shrinking enrollment and despite having sold $15 billion in bonds over the last decade, is seeking a $7 billion bond on November's ballot.

Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Community College District is seeking a $3.5 billion bond of its own. This measures comes after the LACCD's having already passed two bond measures this decade, totaling $2.2 billion, and rife with wasteful spending.

On the county level, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials want to raise the sales tax by an extra half-cent on every dollar. Where all that money would go remains something of a mystery, although it's a safe bet that much of it would pay to build the fanciful "subway to the sea."

In Sacramento, officials have plotted various money-grabbing schemes of their own. The November ballot will include nearly $17 billion in statewide bonds, including from $9.95 billion to start up a high-speed, statewide railroad system and $5 billion to give cash rebates to motorists who buy fuel-efficient cars.

Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the erstwhile anti-tax crusader, has proposed raising California's sales tax by 1 percent.

Yet for all the nickel-and-diming of the public, none of our elected officials -- state or local -- has demonstrated a similar interest in saving money. No one talks about cutting wasteful or redundant programs; of paring down bureaucracies; or of slashing perks for politicians, their staffs and other public employees.

Like the airlines, the focus seems to be purely on getting as much money out of the public as possible -- never mind that the average taxpayer is strapped already.

And like the airlines, our governments seem oblivious to the long- term consequences of their money-grubbing approach. Make air travel too pricey, and fewer people will fly. Make living or doing business in California, and people will choose to live or do business elsewhere.

Squeezing the public might seem like a short-term strategy for solvency, but it's a long-term plan for collapse.

Yes, the economy is bad. No one know that better than regular Californians, who struggle just to pay their bills. But just as we the people have to learn to live within our means, so, too, must our elected officials.

(c) 2008 Daily News; Los Angeles, Calif.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.