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Political Spectrum: View From the Left

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May 8, 2012 by Richard Drake

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Question: Washington County voters, on May 22, will decide whether or not to establish a quarter cent sales tax that would provide $7.5 million annually for Ozark Regional Transit.  Do you support passing this measure? Why or why not.  

By Richard Drake

As I write this, I am sitting in western Oklahoma, which, on a clear day, is sort of like seeing Northwest Arkansas in a funhouse mirror.

This city does not encourage recycling, and sidewalks – oh, I still haven’t seen one of those yet, and I have been here a little over a week. There is no public access television, no volunteer citizen committees to advise local governments and no public transportation.

It may be a city, but it doesn’t appear to be a community.

It is Social Darwinism at its finest, and I can’t wait to come home. It is, however, the perfect place to ponder this question.

I wouldn’t want to live in a city which lacks any of the above. To find oneself in such a place, which seemingly feels no need for any of them, boggles the mind. To paraphrase a quote from those great musical philosophers, The Animals, “I gotta get out of his place.”

It does, though, provide me with a sense of perspective, to imagine Northwest Arkansas without any of the above, or local governments feeling the need to in provide them.

I have read arguments on both sides of this issue, including the claims made by some that a “special interest” had been misleading the public about the need for the tax. It has been unclear in all of the hoopla whether the “special interest” is ORT, or those who ride the buses, and just how firm their links might actually be to the United Nations, which some seem to fear.

In the beginning, there were those who opposed the very idea of a bus service altogether, believing that a “voucher” system for taxis would be adequate for those who truly needed the transportation.

The simple truth of the matter is that we need more buses and more routes added in our area. We can’t pretend otherwise. If the additional funds will enable Ozark Regional Transit to do just that, more power to them.

It is an undeniable fact that more people are riding buses in America, leaving aside Northwest Arkansas. The expected increase in demand alone makes for a good argument in favor of the tax. And to add routes at night, or in parts of our area only reachable by car?

That is real progress.

Some have a knee-jerk reaction to any sort of tax proposal at all, no matter what the money goes for. It is how they are hard-wired. I’m not sure how to deal with that particular special interest group.

But bus service is one of those things that makes us civilized, I think, along with libraries and fire departments and police forces.

I have read sneering comments in newspapers about the “special interests” who ride buses, almost as though hey are a subset of humanity, not really belonging with the rest of us, as if they have their own culture, their own not-quite-standing-on-their-own two -feet way of looking at life. A class of people to be both pitied and scorned at the same time.

That’s not who I see when I ride buses – and I ride buses a lot. True, they are UA buses, but I know many of the ORT riders. Perhaps those who have such a cavalier attitude about the “special interests” who ride buses and the service they provide should get on a few buses, and then they would be a little more qualified to pass judgment.

Richard Drake

Richard S. Drake has been writing about political and cultural affairs in Northwest Arkansas for 20 years. The author of Freedom Run a science fiction novel, he can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter. He can be contacted at: rsdrake@cox.net

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6 comments »

  1. Russ says:

    The High Road Not Taken: Romney’s Undue Apology for Attack Ads. My thoughts here: http://yourthoughtshere.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/35/

  2. Hogeye Bill says:

    Richard Drake wrote a “view from the [statist] left” about the proposed ORT tax, which would raise your sales tax by a quarter percent. Allow me to provide a libertarian perspective.

    The ORT tax would benefit less than one percent of the people in Washington County by robbing the 99%. The less than 1% who use the bus is clearly a special interest – the people who use subsidized bussing. Drake denies that a tiny fraction of the population who would benefit from robbing the vast majority is a special interest!

    Drake makes other dubious claims. He writes, “The simple truth of the matter is that we need more buses and more routes added in our area.” The evidence shows that there is not enough demand for ORT to make it voluntarily in a market. Already they need a massive input of federal dollars to survive. Many or most of their busses have only one or two people riding. Take a close look at the next ORT bus you pass and count. So contrary to what Drake claims is “the simple truth,” there is currently a proven and observable lack of demand – otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to rob their neighbors to fund it.

    Of course, the green authoritarians who want to raise your taxes will say that they predict that, someday, there will be a demand. Well, if they think so they are free to fund their speculative venture themselves. They are not free to rob their neighbors to fund it.

    Some of Drake’s column is laughable, like comparing a small town in the western Oklahoma semi-desert to bustling northwest Arkansas. Also, he succumbs to the “Columbus fallacy” (i.e. If it hadn’t been for Columbus, America would never have been discovered) when he implies that without government funding there would be no roads or sidewalks or librarie or fire departments. These things have been done privately – generally more efficiently and with better quality, and definitely more morally (if you oppose theft.)

    Drake attacks a straw man when he claims that some oppose “the very idea of a bus service altogether.” I’ve been involved with anti-tax people, and I’ve never met anyone with that opinion. What people oppose is a bus system that’s funded by government, funded by taxation. A similar trick is used by those who claim that anti-tax people are against public transit. No – only government subsidized public transit. I have never met any anti-ORT tax person who opposed someone setting up a business giving the general public transport services.

    I agree with Drake that things like libraries and inexpensive transportation and fire departments make us civilized. Of course these things can be, and often have been historically, done voluntarily rather than through government violence-power. If Drake thinks that only a government (through taxation) can do these things, he’s falling for the fallacy of government solipotence.

    Don’t worry, if/when there is enough demand for a bus system, then entrepreneurs will provide you one through voluntary market means. And they’ll do it without forcing you to foot the bill. So vote “no” on the ORT tax on May 22. Or vote early at the Washington County court house.

  3. Theresa Henry says:

    Perfectly said! Nothing else matters in the end.

  4. Nancy Hairston says:

    Dear Richard,

    Very well said! It is sad when you have people who are bent on complaining whether it is a special interest group or nay-sayers. I see it so simply..if you want to change something, go VOTE May 22nd, and exercise your rights. Transit does make so much more sense in so many ways…less overall cost, more sustainability, more civilized as you say, and it is necessary for so many people who do depend on bus transportation. The young people at Youth Bridge who are trying to change their lives DEPEND on this transportation as do so many others in the community. I would much rather spend my 1/4 cent sales tax for improvement because I know it has a benefit. Each time I fill my car up with gas and it has inched toward the 1/4 cent increase from 6 months ago, I really can’t see that benefit in the community. Thanks Richard!

  5. marilyn Shoffit says:

    It makes me wonder if that Same group or another like it with taxphobia, which I truly understand, will fight the 1 whole cent vote that is coming up in Benton Co. They are going to raise the tax to add 6 lanes to 530 in Rogers. Many cities made the planning mistake that is very hard to undo.
    If we are ever going to have good transit, light rail etc. We will have to fix the bus system first. You know, the cart before the horse. Thank You, Marilyn Shoffit

  6. eLwood says:

    HOw was it the 20-30,000 size home town I grew up in, Hot Springs, could have maintained a bus service for decades? The buses ran the major routes through town and all the city’s neighborhoods. You didn’t really need a car and during the 40s, 50s and 60s you could live there and not have a car. Downtown never had much parking. True it was and remains a tourist town. But, tourists rarely used the city buses.
    How did they do it? Why did they do it?

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