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Pennies, Nickels, Dimes, and Measure 30

Commentary
January 4, 2004By Chuck Sheketoff

Silverton is a quaint town where most parking meters take only pennies, nickels, and dimes. The City Council allows free parking during December to attract customers to local businesses for holiday shopping, and donates any money that is deposited in the meters to a non-profit social service agency. This year the Silverton Senior Center is the lucky recipient of $1,190 from the December 2003 meters.

At 10 cents for two hours of parking, you might think that Silverton is different than the rest of Oregon, but it really isn't. Because the other side of this tale of government taking action to help businesses and local social service agencies is that here in Silverton, like elsewhere in Oregon, too many Oregonians fail to realize how tax dollars are spent in their local economy and impact their lives.

When the City decided to award the December parking take to the Senior Center, the Silverton Appeal reported that the agency's executive director said, "The senior center has no public support whatsoever." That came right after the paragraph reporting that the executive director's salary, as well as the Meals on Wheels program and in-house food services her agency provides are provided by Mid-Willamette Valley Senior Services Agency with funding from the federal government. In other words, the source of funds for social services provided by the local senior center - including the director's salary - was taxes, in this case federal Older Americans Act funds.

And that's one reason why Measure 30 has such a tough row to hoe between now and February 3rd. The line between a government program and a private non-profit agency can be difficult to discern. Sometimes what looks like a government entity is really a private, non-profit doing the work. Take the Children's Receiving Center in Multnomah County. There, The Christie School operates the Center for the state and county as the place the police take children when their parents are arrested. Gubernatorial hopeful and sometimes government-basher Ron Saxton has called the Receiving Center an example of where "government actually works." Like the Silverton Senior Center, tax dollars are integrally linked to jobs in the private sector.

Whether it's our many friends and neighbors who work in the Medicare- and Medicaid-supported hospitals and nursing homes that anchor the economy and health of many Oregon communities, those who work for senior citizen, youth protection, or other social service programs, or those who rely upon hot meal and other vital services such as the nearly 70 seniors in Silverton, many Oregonians who do not get a paycheck directly from our government are still both reliant and dependent upon tax dollars.

Votes to raise taxes to provide services Oregonians use will succeed only when Oregonians recognize that government plays an important role in their lives. When Oregonians see the connection between the pennies, nickels, and dimes and the non-governmental agencies they rely upon each day, Measure 30 and its progeny will succeed and Oregon will have a balanced budget that meets the needs of Oregonians.

Charles Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. He can be reached at [email protected]