Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Janet's $100,000 shakedown

Arizona's Governor Janet Napolitano, says the East Valley Tribune, has been twisting arms and cutting deals to turn political opponents of her pet causes into supporters and even donors to her coffers.

In a secret deal, developers agreed to back the plan for an ambitious statewide transportation measure that will raise the state sales tax by 1 penny.

Napolitano eliminated provisions requiring developers to pay part of the $42 billion plan to finance freeways, trains, buses and other transportation needs across Arizona. This goes against the governor’s stated position that developers should pay their way when it comes to transportation to reduce sprawl and avoid traffic congestion.

Connie Wilhelm, president of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, said the governor’s office approached the builders late last week with an offer.

The two sides negotiated Monday and Tuesday on an agreement that also includes promises by developers to stay out of a state trust land initiative and work with the governor next year on transportation legislation, Wilhelm said.

“We had been taking a neutral position but were planning to oppose it until we spoke with them (the governor’s office),” she said. Wilhelm finalized the agreement in a letter she signed and sent to the governor’s office Tuesday.

That same day, the governor filed paperwork for the massive transportation tax package that, if approved by voters in November, will be financed with a 1-cent sales tax increase over the next 30 years.

The $100,000 promised by the builders will help pay to collect 153,400 signatures needed to get the proposal on the ballot. They have until July 3 to get the required signatures.

Tom Jenney, of the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers, flat-out calls this "extortion" and I think he has it pegged. Basically, the governor threatened to slam an entire industry with special fees unless the organization representing that industry dropped its opposition to a scheme to pull state trust land off the table for development, promised to support a multi-billion-dollar transportation boondoggle and cut a fat check subsidizing the transport scam (with promises of "further discussions regarding funding" to come).

Yeah, that's extortion.

Even if the governor's proposals were good ideas, it would still be a shameless shakedown.

This is one way that government ensures its continued power and growth. As it reaches ever-further into the recesses of human life, it gains bargaining chips. Special favors can be promised -- or special attention can be threatened -- in order to win the cooperation of people who otherwise might not so easily acquiesce to the schemes of the creatures holding political office. As time goes on, the state builds reserves of money and control that it can use to bribe or extort individuals, organizations, interest groups and industries.

It's even possible that government officials engaged in the most brazen arm-twisting can come, over time, to regard their behavior as perfectly acceptable. Dennis Burke, the governor’s chief of staff, may actually mean it when he says, "There’s nothing wrong with this. This is how you negotiate."

As if a mugging were a negotiation.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how you stop these sorts of shenanigans. Unless the public reacts with outrage -- and so far, all I'm seeing is a little resentment among the chattering classes -- it becomes acceptable for government officials to muzzle opponents by abusing their power.

Then all you can do is hope the system collapses under its own weight.

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