There's an old fable I remember from my childhood about a monkey trying to get a grape contained in a glass jar. He sees the grape and decides that it would be better in his mouth than in the jar. He puts his hand in the jar and clutches the grape; however he can no longer extract his hand from the jar because his grasping hand that contains the grape is now too big to pass through the neck of the jar. He's faced with the dilemma of having to decide whether to continue to clutch the grape which he can't eat because he can't extract it, or release the grape, extract his hand and try another way to get to the grape. And so it is with the City of San Jose, California.
As a resident I read an article in the New York Times about the budget issues faced here in San Jose (http://www.nytimes.com/...) It's amazing to me how mainstream media - even the Times - can be so monochrome on an issue that has so many other facets that appear to have been deliberately ignored. Although it would be unbelievably easy to highlight San Jose city government as a primary example of how to squander public wealth, there's no difference whatsoever between this place and any other municipality in this country because of the political hive mind that has been stuck in the neocon mode of business pandering for the last 20 years. It could have been prevented by applying common sense and attention to historical performance of business cycles- but when corporate tax laws were pretty much rendered toothless by conservative arm twisting in state houses all over the country, local governments were doomed to financial ruin.
The incessant republican whine of "Taxes on business are too high!" forced city governments into the position of being "competitive" in order to retain jobs and attempt to preemptively stabilize a perceived exodus to other locations. So when a huge, successful local networking research and development corporation started to make noises about moving to a hot, humid anti-government enclave somewhere in the southern midwest with crumbling infrastructure and a fundamentalist education system because they'll pay next to nothing in taxes and the wage base there is below the poverty line (read: the possibility of insanely huge margins that no executive boardroom can ignore) local government immediately launched into the "court and spark" mode. A favorite carrot hung on the end of the proverbial stick is to defer or drastically reduce business and/or property taxes temporarily, indefinitely or eliminate them altogether in order to bribe these already wealthy businesses to stay put. The idea is to then shift the tax burden onto residential home owners who watch their taxes go through the roof... Proposition 13 notwithstanding. And what do they use for workarounds without going through the customary legislative processes to levy taxes? The same tools Romney used as Massachusetts governor: fees and assessments for everything short of charging fees for breathing city air: city services rate increases, anything short of holding you up at gunpoint in front of City Hall to empty your pockets. For example the City of San Jose recently passed a law which allows them to obtain garbage collection fees through biannual property tax assessments. That one really smells of Romneyism because it means that the city will be able to pocket the wages of a half-dozen low-wage billing jobs that will be eliminated while enabling them to engage in uncontested rate creep. Meanwhile as interest due on municipal loans compounds from deferred payments and revenue dries up from all those tax concessions, so do services to the community.
The long-term effect on the direction for future municipal decision-making like this had been set long before even the old Susan Hammer days when the economy thrived here - before Carly Fiorina arrived to destroy HP, before Meg Whitman built a bank within eBay with minimal intervention from the FDIC and tried to buy the governor's mansion, and the Wall Street Journal occupied itself with writing Apple's obituary every other week. To be sure, the kind of arm twisting that went on behind closed doors resulting in ridiculously generous fully-funded retirement benefits for law enforcement and other local government employees surely relied on the notion that prosperity would never go away... but it did. It's a cyclical thing that caught everyone all over the country with their pants down at their knees. In addition, making city and state workers ineligible for Social Security in lieu of union-negotiated retirement benefits was yet another in a long line of ideas based on financial tunnel vision that amplified the one component of human nature that we've kept since our ancestors tried to get at that grape- greed. It had the same effect of privatizing pensions that it did on privatizing prisons... But again, as usual, nobody was paying attention.
Consequently the decomposing effects of a "rust belt" mentality has begun to set in on our community that used to have the lowest crime rate of any large city in the U.S.- upticks in marauding gang violence and activities, graffiti, home invasion robberies, suicides, skyrocketing murder rates. With fewer police on the streets due to "austerity" brought on by foolish decisions and "good ol' boy" handshake agreements behind closed doors, it's like leaving the lids off garbage cans so that the vermin can feast. And now the entire community gets to suffer so that a few short-sighted, greedy people can fatten their portfolios and take our money with them when they've finished sucking the teat dry and eventually leave.
So what are San Jose city fathers doing about it right now? Well, all those unoccupied commercial buildings that are empty because of the stigma that neocons have placed on corporate taxation - and many have remained unoccupied since the Dot Com bust of 2001 - are being leveled. Instead of finding ways to fill those empty buildings with tax paying employees who would spend their wages locally and create their own kind of wealth - a stable community - the geniuses in City Hall have created a new cottage industry for local demolition crews who now go around the city destroying whole city blocks of empty buildings that once contained board stuffers, engineers and support staff. Piles of ground up concrete from the walls of tilt- up slab construction have given way to ....high density condos. That's right. They're betting the farm on that old Property Tax Gambit to give them an exit route out of the circular firing squad they've created for us.
The trouble is that nobody is saying where all those people who are supposed to buy these condos are going to come from, what they're going to do to come up with mortgage payments and property taxes, or where they're going to be employed. They can't possibly bring that many H1b visa workers into the state without Homeland Security going ballistic. But I'm sure that plan is being worked out in a posh board room somewhere... and a final executive decision will have to be made about getting at that damned grape by breaking the jar as all the other monkeys have done - or simply turning it upside down.