Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Costco Rescues City From the Fire Department

I don’t think bigbox stores like Costco and Wal-Mart are evil like some environmentalists that want them banned or regulated. At the same time, it is crazy to hail big box stores as some sort of economic development score like we are hearing from Lodi in this morning’s Record.

“This is something that we’ve worked very hard on,” said City Councilman Larry Hansen, one of the loudest voices in the city’s plea for new sales tax dollars. “It’s an absolute home run to have Costco built.”

Elsewhere in today’s Record, we hear more about how Fire Department overtime and generous labor contracts continue to drive Stockton (not unlike other CA cities) towards bankruptcy.

Yes, the headline on this post is unfair and rude - after all Lodi and Stockton aren’t even the same city. Yet, these articles reminded me of some of the things that are screwed up in California government.

Local governments dependent on sales tax value car dealerships and big box stores above all else, and a firefighter is arguably the most highly sought after and among the best paying jobs in the Central Valley. I don’t think this system is built for long-term economic success in the 21st century.

My bias is that I grew up in a town (in Ohio) with top-notch schools well funded by local property and income taxes, and we had a volunteer fire department. The sales tax went to the state, and some folks complained that we didn’t have enough local shopping. Although my family was lucky never to need the fire dept. or emergency reponse, I suspect that service would have been better without the volunteer f.d. If we wanted, we could have chosen to improve our fire services by raising local taxes or cutting school funding.

I now live in an area with sub-standard schools funded by the state, good shopping opportunities relative to the local income base, and top-notch, well-funded fire departments that get their revenue from local sources. I wonder if these differences reflect different values and preferences in the communities, or are just a result of the different funding schemes for state and local government. It would be interesting to see what the local communities would value the most if both school and fire budgets were made at the local level.

About the Author

Ethan Jacob

Author & Editor

I am Ethan Jacob Executive Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific, where I have a joint faculty appointment in the Eberhardt School of Business and the Public Policy Program in the McGeorge School of Law..

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