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Opposition Committee Member On Why He’s Against Measure L

MADERA COUNTY — John Pero is a member of the ad hoc committee that is opposing Measure L — the proposed Public Safety Sales Tax scheduled for the Mar. 7 ballot.

He is also the leader of the Oakhurst/Coarsegold Tea Party, but says the No on Measure L effort was not organized or written by the Tea Party organization, “it’s just four individual folks who felt a burden to get the word out.”

After seeing that there was no argument against Measure C in the June 2016 primary election, Pero’s group “felt the need to get folks educated as best we could,” and wrote the rebuttal to Measure L that was printed in the Voter Information Guide for the Mar. 7 election. We talked to Mr. Pero about his opposition to the measure:

Q: What is your fundamental objection to Measure L?

A: If you look at the State and Federal constitutions, the primary role of government is to protect the inalienable rights of its citizens and to enforce the law. That’s the bottom line. That should be the primary role of our county government as well. They say safety first. I don’t have a problem with that. I support that, but first means first. It doesn’t mean you raise salaries by millions of dollars, and fund an OHV park, give money to consultations to advertise Measure C, but yet we can’t fund fire department?

You can never solve a problem by raising taxes, you only create problems. So we have “x” amount of dollars, and we need to fund fire and safety, and then with what’s left over after that, we fund our infrastructure.

What I’ve seen over the last couple years when I look at the spending patterns, is that they haven’t done that. So the County just raised salaries for volunteer firefighters. Why didn’t that happen five years ago? Why do it now just before Measure L? I’m not saying there’s collusion there, but it sure looks like it.

I’ve been to more than five of these presentations on Measure L, and they’re trying to put fear in you to “pay now or pay later,” and they raise the issue of the ISO ratings. Back in 2015 when ISO went up, it was because Nancy’s [Cal Fire MMU Unit Chief Nancy Koerperich] group didn’t get the paperwork submitted in time. So now they said ISO will come down because now we got the paperwork done in time. Also, there are a lot of insurance companies that don’t use ISO.

You can’t guarantee that somebody’s property insurance rates are going to be decreased, because those ratings are based on a lot more than just having a fire station close by. And by the way, it only applies to fire stations that are within a five mile radius. So it’s that old adage, “never let a crisis go to waste.” We’re in the middle of a drought, we’ve got all these fires going on, so they say, “hey, let’s use this opportunity to scare the bgeezus out of people that we’ve got to increase the funding for fire.” I want the fire department to have more money, but this is a problem that’s been going on for decades. It’s not just the current crop of supervisors.

The Voter Information Guide for Measure L is 70 pages long. The one for the primary from last June was 60 pages and it had propositions, it had Measure C, it had all these presidential candidates, and I’m not saying it’s true, but that smacks of electioneering. Why do you have to put every minutia of this thing in there, when you could just link to a website? Just give a basic overview, and people can go to a website.

Also, why wasn’t this put on the primary ballot or the general election last year? The spin that you get from Board of Supervisors is, “we didn’t have it ready by then.” That’s nonsense; they’ve been working on this for a couple years. They didn’t want to put it on the ballot because of all the other taxes. They thought they’d have a better chance of passing it if it was a stand-alone election, than if they put it on the ballot in a primary or a general election. So we’re spending over 100 thousand dollars just for a voters guide and all the paperwork involved, when it would have cost 30 thousand dollars on a general election or a primary.

Even if Measure L passes, it will only fund 25 percent of what is needed to man all the fire stations. We need $20 million to do that, according to Chief Koerperich, so we still won’t be able to man all the stations. What happens in another year a two when the fire department is still underfunded? Giving tax money to a politician is like giving drugs to addict. If you can’t learn to spend the money you have wisely, then don’t ask me for more. Madera is a poor county.

I heard Supervisor Wheeler say that tourists will pay for the majority of this tax. Who cares, even if it is the tourists, why should we penalize the tourists? That’s the mindset that really upsets me. If you want a special tax on a tourists, solve it at county level. There are TOT [Transient Occupancy Tax] taxes at hotels, there could be some additional fee on that if you really want to put it on tourists, but why are you penalizing the average resident that lives in county?

The County found six to seven million dollars in the last year in the discretionary budget, so the question is, why wasn’t that money given to the fire department? The majority of that money was in raises. So Tom Wheeler says the County employees haven’t gotten any raises since 2007, 2008, I understand all that. The question is, if you’re saying safety is first, then make it first. That’s the point. Maybe you should privatize some of those jobs. If you look at the Madera County budget, almost 29 percent is welfare related. Seventy-six million.

Q: That $76 million is from the entire budget of $266 million. The County spends $3.5 million of the $63 million discretionary budget on welfare, which is 6 percent. Where should they cut costs there?

A: Yes, a lot of that is grants from the state or the federal government. So the County doesn’t get that as discretionary income. So here’s my question – we’re giving all this money to welfare. We’ve got a whole distributional system set up in the county, so how many social workers do we have out there? Who’s paying them? Where’s that money coming from? I’ve talked to District Attorney David Linn and he says the welfare fraud is rampant. He says they don’t have enough manpower to go after it. But here’s the bottom line – how many people in this county are here illegally? How many of those illegal people are using our public services — our schools, our doctors, our social services, contributing to crime in this county because we’re not enforcing our laws.

Q: Wouldn’t it require more County employees to do more to enforce the laws and track down the people committing welfare fraud?

A: I don’t know that we need more. The point is that we’re not enforcing the laws that we have. We have lots of restrictions on our police and our sheriff as to what they can and can’t do. And there are huge costs per household for every illegal we have in the county. I’ve heard numbers quoted out on radio, and I don’t have exact numbers, but it’s the hidden factor, the underbelly. It has a huge cost to society as a whole, and that money comes out of the discretionary fund. It affects our law enforcement; it affects our hospitals and affects our schools. So if 29 percent of the budget is being used for welfare, and the district attorney tells me there’s massive fraud in the welfare system, then you’ve got to factor in what percentage of these people are here illegally. It’s just a huge problem.

So you ask me, where do we get the money? First of all we use the money that we have, and we fund fire and safety first, and we may have to lay off a few people because we can’t increase their wages. Our County CAO got a huge raise last year, why did that guy need a raise?

Q: The argument is that they have to go through the process to find and hire new employees and train them, and then they go to another county that pays much better, and then they have to do it all over again. They say that costs more than paying people a wage that is comparable to other counties of Madera’s size.

A: So, let them go. This is the game they play. “They’re underpaid, so as soon as we get them trained, they go someplace else.” There’s a reality to that, no question. I’ve heard that argument, but I haven’t seen the numbers to prove it. Talk’s cheap.

So to me the solution is, number one, enforce what’s first. If safety is first, then put the money there first. Number two, the way you increase discretionary income and money coming into the County is not by raising taxes. Raising taxes never works. It takes away people’s incentive, so you keep taxes low, you keep regulations low, you get the County out of the business of trying to run a business, and just make sure they set good, comfortable standards at a low level of regulations, and encourage business to come in with housing developments or something like that. It’s a principal-based argument; it’s not an emotional-based argument.

 Click here to visit the No on Measure L website.

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