If the fight over the Lafayette Utilities System's fiber telecom plan were 'Lord of the Rings,' Cox Communications would be the hacking, slashing orcs. The real dark force, the flaming orange eyeball in the evil tower, would be BellSouth.And it starts out so well.....
Of course for Decker, our daily's online editor, this is only the florid lead-in to another of his pieces in which he exhibits a profound ignorance of basic economics and political science wherever LUS and the city's fiber optic initiative is concerned. Decker is currently the "online editor;" when his first screed was published he was also listed as business editor but they seem to have given that job to someone more qualified. He really wasn't qualified for that position, as his attempts at economic analysis here show.
I've tried in the past to acknowledge Decker's growth (1,2) but this is some pretty serious backsliding; it is a return to the days immediately following the city's announcement that it wanted to study providing fiber, during which Decker said, and I quote: “What’s next? A five-year plan? A hall of socialist labor heroes?” This article is a reversion to the days when Decker couldn't distinguish between a popularly elected local government and a Stalinist Soviet Union.
My quarrel with this essay? It's ignorant.
Decker writes as if he actually believes the sort of spew that calls correctly labeling public utilities as "publicly owned" "Orwellian legalese." This is sheerest nonsense. Of course public utilities are publicly owned. That is a simple fact. What he is trying to do is point away from that simple fact and to the sort of stuff you hear these days from the ultra far right: the implication that government is always and in all ways an imposition on the people. That's just crazy. Your local public water utility is no communist, Orwellian nightmare. It is, simply, a public utility. Decker lives in a world in which the mere existence of public utilities is prima facie evidence of some some socialist plot, and indeed evidence that our little city government is a socialist one. That this is a fantasy world of fear and resentment without much grounding in the world the rest of us live in is evident.
Decker then spends some time torturously trying to establish something I have never seen anyone dispute: that LUS is a legal component of the local government. He does, glancingly, notice that it is insulated from the rest of city government and that the money it takes in can't be raided by politicians at their discretion. But the real point is to "tar" LUS with the title of government.
Allow me to quote the most egregious of all resentment-fueled ignorance:
As conceived, the LUS fiber proposal could mean advanced service at low prices, a bridge over the digital divide and a promising lure for new employers looking for a tech-savvy place to call home. But it also would be a tax increase under the guise of a fee for services, and without voter approval.You can feel him straining for balance in this statement. And I am grateful for the effort. But Decker's ideologically-fueled ignorance of the actual political and economic structures we all live in distorts his view here.
He is calling fees for service a tax, apparently because any money a government takes in must be called a tax and it must always be "bad." But he is wrong on a common-sense basis and even on the basis of his own ideology.
A fee-for-service is a fee charged for a service. Seem simple? It is. We send water to your home and you pay for the quantity of service you use. Same for electricity. Or to rent a public hall like the one at the Clifton Chenier center, or to use one of the cabins at the state park, or to enter a national park.
You will notice that it is the opposite of a tax. A tax is used to charge everyone for basic public services that, generally, everyone benefits from equally or nearly equally. To prevent freeloading, the charge is mandatory. A fee, on the other hand, is charged only to those who use it; there is no "coercion" involved.
Why is it important to Decker and other opponents of the fiber plan to nonsensically insist that fees are somehow taxes? Because they lose their basis for moral outrage if they admit the simple truth: you don't want it, it you don't pay for it. If you don't want to use the cabins at a state park, or the telecom services that are provided by LUS, you don't have to. No tax is being imposed on anyone and the service will be funded by fees willingly provided by the people who value it.
What is disconcerting about the ploy of claiming that fees are taxes is its intellectual dishonesty. It is a core "conservative" position to prefer to reserve taxes for only those most basic of all public services and to charge for everything that can be construed to benefit any smaller group more than the public at large. It was one of Ronald Regean's favorite strategies. Fees are not secret taxes. They are simply a charge for those that use a valuable service for that service, and not charging the general taxpayer to benefit the few.