Opinion

GOP should help Lent, not bash her

Perhaps the active members of the Kitsap Republican Party learned some useful lessons as a result of Commissioner Patty Lent’s vote in favor of increasing the impact fees imposed on new property development.

Electing government officials isn’t the same as choosing a Prom King or Queen. Person-ality and popularity contribute to a candidate’s ability to garner votes in both contests. The core beliefs of candidates for public office matter at least as much, but hardly at all for senior prom “royalty.”

Once elected, public officials make decisions that affect us all; so they need reliable and useful information from those affected, not just from their hired staff members.

Strongly held convictions about how things ought to be can clearly influence a public official’s decision in any case, but the decision of a wise person must be based on a current understanding of relevant facts.

Economist John Maynard Keynes stated the issue best in answering a questioner who criticized Keynes’ changing opinions: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Since we elect people to make decisions to accommodate changed circumstances, a public official’s opinions, no matter how often stated during the campaign for office, must be amenable to change based on the facts.

Rather than rail against Lent’s decision and complain of betrayal, Republican Party leaders should look to see whether they did what was necessary and appropriate to ensure that Lent’s understanding of the facts would square with her previously expressed opinions regarding impact fees.

For example, the analysis provided to the commissioners is surely open to serious questioning when it suggests a need for significant taxes on new residential development to generate revenue for school facility expansion despite several past years of actual enrollment declines followed by further projected declines in the years covered by that analysis.

The Growth Manage-ment Act authorizes the imposition of impact fees on new development, but does not require them. The crucial question is whether they are, in fact, needed as a result of new development.

Imposing higher taxes on new development is the surest way of inhibiting growth in Kitsap County, since increasing the cost of doing something reduces the likelihood that it will be done.

Assuming that all new development unfairly imposes additional costs on residents who have been here for a while is as rational as believing that all the roads and public facilities that existed before those residents arrived were built by little people during the night without cost to residents who preceded them.

We have all benefited from facilities paid for, at least in part, by those who preceded us.

Some people in Kitsap County can see around them the effects of slow or no growth. Bremerton, for example, should be a model community, having escaped the presumed burden of paying for growth. But, of course, it isn’t.

Some of us can see the beneficial effects of new development, for example, in the South Kitsap School District, where the local maintenance and operations levy collects more revenue per student than ever before but at a lower tax rate.

New development has increased the tax base and reduced the tax burden on many individual homeowners.

It’s too late for second thoughts about the Republicans’ support for Lent’s candidacy to change things, but they could reconsider their methods of determining whether a candidate’s convictions square with their own political philosophies.

Having seen Lent pass up the opportunity at a public forum to rebut her opponent’s statements about his restraint in raising property taxes, I noted in this column prior to the election that one ought to wonder whether Lent was prepared to do things differently.

I still wonder, but just barely.

At that same “Eggs and Issues” forum hosted by the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 3, 2002, Lent stated that we could avoid sprawl and preserve trees by managing growth; and her opponent noted the irony in the fact that he was usually the subject of harsh criticism when he said the same thing.

Now Lent has been quoted in this newspaper as saying in defense of her impact fee vote, “But I have to make things happen in this county.”

This is not a statement consistent with a political philosophy that considers private entrepreneurial activity to be the primary source of economic growth. It is, instead, the statement of someone who sees government as a primary source of economic growth.

If I’m correctly understanding the import of her statement, Lent has acted consistently with her core beliefs by seeking to increase government revenues and spend a large portion of them in Bremerton trying to revive Bremerton’s economy.

Rather than feel betrayed by a supposedly broken campaign promise, active Republicans should wonder whether they misunderstood what their candidate was saying. Our representative form of government depends on informed voters making wise use of their votes.

It also depends to a great extent on the proper functioning of political parties that can discern and illuminate for the voters the beliefs and plans of the candidates.

Robert Meadows is a

Port Orchard resident.

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