Unless I’ve missed something, there are two things on my ballot tomorrow in American Fork: the local city council race and Proposition 1, with funding for streets and transportation (including UTA, in counties where UTA exists).
Here’s how I’m voting and a brief account of the reasons why. More discussion of American Fork city issues is at afelection.info; I won’t repeat it all here. But tell your friends.
American Fork City Council
I get three votes in the American Fork City Council election, because there are three available seats. There are four candidates.
I’m voting for incumbents Robert Shelton and Brad Frost. Both are fine city councilors — hard working, intelligent, with their heads in the details. Both have a healthy respect for the complexity of the job and for the need to hear and balance competing interests. They play well with others — which is not universal on the council. Both of them have been eager to talk and listen and explain, on the many occasions when I’ve turned to them for information or to offer my own thoughts.
Councilman Shelton has mastered the numbers. He’s a huge asset in financial matters — as good as former Councilman Dale Gunther, perhaps, though less prone to entertain with exotic aphorisms.
Councilman Frost is as concerned for public communication and for American Fork’s image in and out of the city as anyone I know, and as determined to protect and improve both. He’s doing dogged work to protect our interests in American Fork Canyon. And when he says he loves the city, he’s not just blowing political smoke. He loves it as much as anyone I know — in deed, not just word.
In the last few years, these two and their compatriots on the council and the staff have managed to cut the City budget by $1.8 million. They’ve demonstrated a healthy willingness to reduce staff in some areas in order to add needed staff in other areas without raising taxes. And they have dramatically increased funding for roads. (Rebounding sales tax revenues have helped.) There is careful management of road projects in conjunction with things which need to happen with the pipes under the roads. (Some challengers always suggests this, as if it’s a new idea we should try.) And they’ve helped the City quiet to restructured some departments to solve problems and improve services. We’re making progress in the transition from large town to small city.
Which brings us to the challengers. I have one vote left.
Allen Simpson seems like a good man, and he’s been personable when I’ve spoken with him. His past service to the City well exceeds that of one of the last election’s challengers (and victors), and he’s been open to correction when he gets the numbers wrong, which puts him far ahead of the other 2013 challenger (and victor).
However, AFCitizens endorses him. He’s passing out their flier. And he’s still parroting some of their bad numbers and bad logic.
I judge him more harshly for the numbers, because he calls himself a statistician.
Worst of all, when I listen to him at length on diverse issues, I find that the plow of information and understanding is set too shallow (forgive the agrarian metaphor in suburbia). I judge him more harshly for this, even as a challenger, because he says he has attended city council meetings for 20 years.
Worse, the ideological plow seems to be set a little deeper, but not by much. It’s bad that it’s deeper than the practical plow, and it’s not good that it’s still not very deep. As a result, the connections between his opinions and the realities of governance are only intermittent.
He’s not an ideal candidate, but he could probably navigate the learning curve and become a competent and useful legislator over time.
Kevin Barnes served (without pay) on the Planning Commission, which is huge. The people I know who have worked with him at the City speak very highly of him. AFCitizens has halfheartedly supported him, because he’s not an incumbent, but he certainly does not endorse them. He knows some important parts of the City’s operations deeply, and he has a healthy respect for the complexity of the organization and many of the issues we face. He doesn’t throw ideological bombs at quality-of-life programs. He comes across as a warm, intelligent, sensible, witty bundle of cheerful leadership.
You saw this coming. My third vote goes to Kevin Barnes. A few weeks ago, I thought it might be close. It’s not.
Proposition 1 proposes to raise sales taxes by one-quarter of one percent (a penny on four dollars). In counties where UTA exists, 40 percent of the revenue will go to UTA. The rest will go to roads and such.
Opponents say Prop 1 is just a gimmick to shovel money to UTA, which is notoriously wasteful. The same people tend to say we’ll need mass transit in the future, but we don’t need it now. They say the trains and buses are often nearly empty. (When I ride, they’re almost always nearly full, but there or other times and routes, I know.) Here’s why I’m voting for Prop 1 anyway.
First, I’m biased. I like public transit and have relied on it when I have traveled to or lived in Washington, DC; New York City and Long Island; Pittsburgh; Chicago; Boston; San Diego; Portland; and Moscow. I’ve also been riding Frontrunner to work for the last six months. I love Frontrunner. I usually get 40 minutes of some sort of work done while sitting on the train, at the beginning and end of the work day. It’s very productive. And when I drive to work every so often — usually, when I’m driving home — I wish I were on the train getting some work done, instead of sitting unproductively in traffic.
We could debate our present need for mass transit. I think the need exists, and even now the system helps a lot of people who don’t necessarily have to own a car to live here. But it’s not the slam dunk it will be in a decade or two or three, when the population of these valleys has doubled.
Sure, we’ll need it then, they say. But where do they think it will come from then, if we’re not building the system now? I don’t mean grabbing up right-of-ways and building things. I also see us on a learning curve, learning not only how to operate an extensive mass transit system, but also how to govern it. The sooner we learn these lessons, the better and the cheaper they will be.
As to governance, there have been some major growing pains. But I am much encouraged by a conversation I had the other day with Utah State Auditor Dougall, who is not known as one of the Utah Transit Authority’s most devoted fans. He told me a number of very encouraging things which have been implemented in response to past troubles, to increase transparency, to give local governments more influence over UTA, and to encourage and enforce greater fiscal accountability.
So I’m comfortable with the learning curve we’re on, and I favor building more mass transit now instead of later, and I think a sales tax increment is a good way to raise funds for both mass transit and roads. Our roads need the help. Our local governments need the help.
One more thing. They say it’s wrong to subsidize mass transit, and we should let the market decide what is needed. Quite apart from large externalities (apologies for intruding economics into politics), please look around you today at the roads, bridges, traffic signals, public parking lots, traffic enforcement, and multi-billion dollar freeway reconstructions which surround us. Think about the government mechanisms to license drivers and register cars. Consider the cost of measures we take to promote air quality, which is a problem largely due to cars.
Now tell me we’re not already subsidizing automobile transit far more than we’ll ever subsidize mass transit.
Opponents want the legislature to take UTA funding out of the proposal. Then maybe they’ll vote for it. Call me a commie (you wouldn’t be the first, but you wouldn’t be right either); I prefer it with UTA funding built in.
Vote as you think best, but vote!