I note that the Interurban Trail Bicycle Bridge over I-43 in the Town of Grafton is right on schedule to open in early September. That's good news for trail cyclists as well as hikers. Too bad that Ozaukee County property taxpayers can't enjoy the event as they would have, if the 2003 proposal had been implemented as promised.
As a County Supervisor in 2003, I and the rest of the County Board, heard the initial proposal from county officials in which they promised faithfully that the cost of the bridge would be fully covered by grants from the federal and state especially available for that purpose, plus private donations. Needless to say, that cost concept resulted in a rousing affirmative from the County Board -- and the program got underway.
The initial plan called for $1 million in grants and $300,000 in private donations to cover the estimated total cost of $1.3 million. The first bump in the road occurred when the state required handicap access, as well as other cost increasing changes. With those requirements incorporated, a bid price of $2.8 million, more than twice the available financing, was received.
So it was back to the drawing board for a different approach with a steel structure in place of concrete at a lower cost. Still with the mandated state requirements, the next cost estimate was $1.8 million -- some $500,000 over the available financing. What to do -- and the head scratching began?
The answer was to take Federal Highway funds, allotted to Ozaukee County for the construction, repair and maintenance of county roads and use those funds to make up the shortfall remaining in the bicycle bridge project. I suggested that this was a violation of the commitment not to use funding that would require the Ozaukee County taxpayer to subsidize the bridge. My rationale was that if the Federal highway funds were so diverted from county road projects, the taxpayer would have to be tapped for those funds or those road projects abandoned.
I soon learned that my rationale was a minority opinion and that the solemn, staid and serious promise not to use resources that affected service to county residents was not considered broken by this arrangement -- in fact, not even dented. That was another lesson learned -- "when government officials and legislators want something, convoluted thinking will find a loophole." The loophole rationale was that since the $500,000+ required to complete the bicycle bridge project, did not really come from 2008 property taxes. Those county highway projects slated for the $500,000+ could be delayed into another budget period, when more Federal highway funds might be forthcoming. Thus the County could allege they did not break the commitment not to use county taxpayer funds -- maybe just bend it. My own perspective was that the County should have been forthright with its residents, explaining the necessity for using Federal highway funds for the bridge's completion and what consequences resulted from the removal of Federal highway funds from the county's road construction, repair and maintainence programs.
In retrospect I should have known better since when I was a relatively new County Board supervisor, the issue arose as to fulfilling another solemn, staid and serious commitment to remove the 0.5% county sales tax after the new Justice Center construction had been fully paid. I urged its removal as probably the one chance of a lifetime to remove a temporary tax after its purpose had been fulfilled. I soon learned that once a tax has been implemented, regardless of its temporary nature and the commitment to remove it when its purpose had been fulfilled -- the allure of a continuing revenue source is too great for government elected officials to overcome. So today, some 8 years later, Ozaukee County residents are still paying the 0.5% sales tax to the County as a part of our overall 5.6% total sales tax.
Of course, none of this is unique to local government. The State and Federal governments outdo us in spades in ignoring tax relief promises. The most gross example may be a federal phone tax that dates back to the Spanish-American war at the turn of the 20th century. The tax was imposed in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War. It was designed as a tax on wealthy Americans, back when phone service was considered a luxury. It only took 108 years for this tax to be removed in 2006. Another, is the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), imposed in 1970 to insure the top 155 earners paid an income tax and now, 39 years later, catches over 20% of all Federal income tax filers. Our US Congress just cannot bear to remove any revenue source, regardless of whether it has outlived its original purpose.
You would think that American citizens would now be well advised to take political promises with a tablespoon of salt, but every four years candidates tour the country with promises. We should realize campaign promises are worthless, but we lap them up and regularly elect the biggest promiser of the bunch.
QED: AMERCANS GET THE LOCAL, STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS THEY DESERVE!