My View: Notes from the Front Row (Opinion)
The former speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped, “all politics are local” how right he was. Here we are in an election season in South Lake Tahoe with candidates out there doing their best to convince you to vote for them while residents chime in with who to support or how to vote on candidates or ballot measure. It makes for a great fall, indeed.
While I am not here to tell you which way to vote but I have developed my own voters’ guide for your consideration.
• There is no free lunch. Years ago, as a student, one of the first books I was tasked to read in an economic class was titled “TANSTAAFL; There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” A great read with one core concept that has remained with me for years. Everything of value has a cost.
Value clean air? It has a cost. Want lots of visitors? It has a cost. No matter the issue, there is a cost involved. The challenge is to understand what that cost is. As voters want services, we love them, and we want roads fixed, trails built, events provided, and more, but we would like to have someone else pay for it, all of it. Would-be politicians are happy to tell you that you can have what you want, at no cost to you. But don’t believe them; there is always a cost.
• It’s about tradeoffs. Elections are not just about candidates and ballot measures, but more essential elections are really about tradeoffs. By voting for a politician that tells you they will not or will vote for a tax, you, my voting friend, are looking for a tradeoff. No sales tax, you probably will not get roads fixed at the pace or level you like, if at all. (See above there is no free lunch.)
Conversely, if you vote for someone who will support a tax, you are trading your money for a specific outcome and making sure they deliver. You cannot have it all; you cannot have fixed roads without the tax funds to pay for it. You are most likely not going to reduce traffic, crowding and congestion, and visitors’ environmental impact without some way to manage visitor volumes. (i.e., basin user fee.) This goes for any issues in front of the council ask yourself what are the tradeoffs? Economic realities and constraints do not go away despite us wanting them to.
• It takes a coalition. I am always fascinated by would be politicians who try and show their leadership by telling you all the things that they are going to do. They have the idea or answer, be it workforce housing, fixing roads, the loop road, transportation, whatever it may be. The reality, they often do not. Even if it is the most genius of solutions that have never been thought of, it takes a coalition to get anything done in this town.
The skills that works to get things done around here is negotiation and compromise. In a place with different states, counties, state, and federal agencies, politicians who think they can get things done without compromise are fooling themselves and you. Consider open-minded candidates with these skills. The best council members exhibit the experience to know how and when to compromise with fellow council members and lots of other agencies.
• Take the long view. When voting for a candidate or a ballot measure, consider the long-term impact and not just the short term. We, as a community, don’t always do well when we focus on the short term. We tend to focus on the immediate issue and not the unintended consequences. You may want to consider those candidates and ballot measures that improve the community over the long term. Unfortunately, everything takes time in this place. Consider candidates and ballot measures that have a strategic view and consider the long-term interest of the community.
• It’s all about the budget? Candidates promise a lot, few, if any, know and understand the budget and the economics of how that budget works. Candidates often never outline how they propose to fund all the items that propose to do (remember there is no free lunch).
The city is in a challenging situation; we have lost millions when the community voted against parking fees, a previous sales tax, and local vacation rentals. At the same time, the city’s obligation to CALPERS continues to grow. Throw in a COVID-19 pandemic, and it gets even more interesting.
The reckoning is here. Where will the money come from? How will new revenue be generated? Taxes, grants, donations? Or what cuts or budget shifts does a candidate propose? Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
It is a Wrap
Whatever your candidate or ballot measure — vote!
Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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