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Much ado about nothing with TOT citizens panel
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Last week's article, "No advisory for spending of TOT" excited some readers.

But there's really nothing to get excited about.

Let me explain.

Voters approved Measure E in November 2015 which increased the tax rate paid when people rent motel rooms in Ceres from five to 10 percent. The measure was expected to add $70,000 to $100,000 extra to the city's general fund.

Last week Mayor Chris Vierra suggested that a special citizen panel be appointed to help the council determine where to spend the extra money. Councilman Bret Durossette correctly stated that because it was General Fund money it could go anywhere, including toward police and fire salaries. Vierra retorted: "My only concern with that is that's not what was portrayed to the voters when the TOT tax was sent to them. It was ‘We're going to help fund other marketing business development to promote the city and other things ... not for salaries."

The rest of the council said that's not how they remembered it going down. They said the money would be used for whatever the city needed.

I did some sleuthing and it appears Durossette and Ryno were right.

In an Oct. 28, 2015 letter to the editor, Ceres Chamber of Commerce President Renee Ledbetter noted: "Since it was placed on the ballot to go into the city's general fund, that extra revenue could help to pay for essential services such as police and fire protection, sewer, infrastructure and drinking water for our residents. It could also be used for economic development efforts like business attraction and promotion of existing local business."

"Could" does not necessarily equate to "will."

In my article of Feb. 25, 2015 I reported: "Because the city is not specifying a certain use for the new taxes - they would go into the general fund - the measure passes with a simple majority vote." I also reported that Economic Development Director Steve Hallam spoke to the manager of Microtel and he indicated that he doesn't care if the TOT increases as long as the city "is doing things to encourage more overnight stays in our city."

It was unclear if Hallam promised that every new TOT dollar would go to promoting Ceres to outsiders but I highly doubt it. To clarify, Hallam said motel operators wanted the city to do "things to encourage more overnight stays in our city." As part of that council conversation in February 2015, Mayor Vierra suggested that the city do things like have the Parks and Recreation send flyers to direct visitors to Ceres motels while attending youth baseball and soccer tournaments and large equestrian events at the Diamond Bar Arena.

"That might help drive up their numbers," he said at the time.

If the city privately hinted that the extra money would be used on economic development that would, in turn, fill more motel rooms, then far be it from me to know. But nothing in the verbiage of the Measure E ballot measure pledged where the money was going other than the General Fund.

On social media, last week's article drew an angry face from one female reader and a comment from Ceres Police Officer Matt Berlier who opined: "Should go to the cops because the cops are dealing with the transients...." (For the sake of accuracy, transients on the streets are not deemed the same as "transients" as defined in the measure as those who stay at motels.) But truly, the extra tax money from out-of-towners goes into the general fund, which is the pot from where police and fire salaries are paid anyway. The general fund also pays for economic development.

I agree that a panel wasn't needed for the council to determine where the money is spent. The city is looking at some serious budget problems for the 2017-18 fiscal year and could be playing financial catch up a long time. The extra $100,000 really is probably already soaked up by need - and the need to stave off layoffs.

* * * *

Protest schmotest.
There was a buzz in social media about why there were no taco trucks in Keyes on Thursday. Carrie Hines posted the question in the Keyes City News page of Facebook. It sent off a flurry of comments.

It was, of course, part of the day-long "A Day Without Immigrants" strike that had thousands - mostly Latinos - shirking their responsibilities at work and school across the nation.

Another Keyes person posted a photo of a closed McDonald's drive-thru with a sign apologizing: "We are close because we don't have people." The location of the store was not identified but may have been Turlock.

I'm not sure what the point of the protest was. While most people in our country can trace their roots back to other continents and nations, we all know the nation was built by immigrants both famous and not famous. Wernher von Braun, the German rocket expert, helped built our U.S. space program. German born Albert Einstein gave us the atomic bomb. Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie built our country with steel. Scottish born John Muir helped spark a nature conservation movement. Henry Kissinger helped craft U.S. foreign policy. Let's not forget foreign born entertainers like Pierce Brosnan, Natalie Portman, Pamela Anderson, Dave Matthews, Wyclef Jean, Irving Berlin, Neil Young, Eddie Van Halen, Charlize Theron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joni Mitchell, Sophia Loren, and Cary Grant. The list goes on.
Nobody disputes the role of immigrants in the U.S. The controversy has nothing to do with legal immigration but those who cheat, defy U.S. law and cross the border illegally.

It's apparent that many who were part of the protest are only greedily concerned with unlimited immigration from one nation in particular. Surely they don't expect the lion share of our immigration to come from only Mexico. But that's been the trend. In 1960, Mexico had a 5.9 percent share of the U.S. immigrant population. By 2015 that percentage swelled to 26.9. Contrast that with 5.5 percent from India, 4.8 percent from China and 4.6 percent from the Philippines. So tell me if that it's fair that immigrants from Mexico floods our gates.

We have 484,072 immigrants coming to the United States every year. Just how more of the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" can be absorbed here? Our jobs market is in shambles. According to Investors Business Daily, the real jobless rate is 9.8 percent, not five percent. The magazine wrote last year: "We've been at or well above the 10% mark now for seven years. Over that time period wages have been basically flat. We're some 5 million jobs short of where we would be if we had had a Reagan-style expansion, and at this pace of just over 200,000 jobs a month, it will take at least four more years to catch up."

I've always said you can only pile so many people on a life boat before the weight causes it to sink. Too many people for too few jobs mean economic catastrophe and a burden to taxpayers beyond what they can bear. The unlimited immigration advocates seem to turn a blind eye to that.

* * * *

Tax season. Ugh. What a pain we endure every year.
Anybody else like the idea of never having to file another tax form? How? Simple. Put a national sales tax in place instead. (Exempt food, of course.) Nobody would be cheating. It would not adversely affect the poor since they generally don't have a lot of money to buy stuff. Everybody pays a sales tax. Not everybody pays income tax, specifically the poor. Yeah, you heard me right.

That idea is not popular because politicians use the tax code to play favorites and garner votes. And of course the HR Block type lobbies would scream bloody murder.

I've always considered it unfair to always target successful people with the tax code to become the hero of the poor, which tend to vote for Democrats. It's a huge myth - probably propagated by Democrats - that the rich don't pay their share of taxes. The bottom 40 percent of Americans pay about 6 percent of taxes, while the top 40 percent pay about 85 percent of taxes - or about 14 times more than their counterparts in the lower brackets. That information comes from the Congressional Budget Office.

Taken too far, progressive taxation is socialist income redistribution, or legalized theft. Asking one minority group to shoulder the burden almost exclusively is discrimination and unethical. Those blessed financially have an obligation to help others, but when the top 40 percent pay almost all the taxes, isn't that enough?

With the national debt at $19.97 trillion and climbing, we have to do something. This debt is $166,766 in debt per American taxpayer. If this was our household, we'd have to either find a way to make more money or cut our spending dramatically.

* * * *

The other day my girlfriend's son was hunting for my Mattel Agent Zero M toy gun. It was one just like the one I played with as a kid. The 1964 toy looked like a camera but when you clicked to "take a photo," the gun barrel pops out and so does the handle, which can be loaded with caps.

I didn't tell him where it was. It's an antique keepsake that cost me like $25 on eBay. Besides, there's no way I want a teenager these days to be out in the neighborhood with something that looks like a black gun. This was the days before toy guns were equipped with an orange plastic tip.

Liberals poo-poo people like me when we say we want America to go back to the way it once was. No, we don't want discrimination and ensure women are barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Going back means something different to me. Kids can't even play with toy guns today because of all the violence committed at schools - something that never happened when I was a kid. So when I say go back, it's to a time when if you spotted an innocent kid in the street with a plastic gun, you knew he was only playing.

Do you have any feedback about this column? Let Jeff know by emailing him at He will read it, promise.