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Scamming The System

by Dennis Green

“Reduce your credit card debt! Pay only pennies on the dollar! You may qualify for a power chair or scooter at no cost to you! Hounded by the IRS? We can get you off the hook!”

Sound familiar? These “commercial messages” are brought to you by scam artists. By attorneys and manufacturers who have learned how to scam Medicare, credit card companies or the IRS. And they are enlisting you to become a co-conspirator. What’s wrong with that?

Well, every person who escapes a few hundred thousand in federal or state taxes, or credit card debt, or who gets Medicare to pay for one of those ridiculous power wheelchairs puts the burden on the rest of us. Our credit card fees go up, or our taxes, or Medicare goes bankrupt sooner.

But if you think this is something that goes on only on late-nite TV, look around you. The scam is going on everywhere. In California, angry taxpayers passed the Jarvis Amendment to the State Constitution, which froze the amount property taxes could be raised until the property changes hands.

Retired homeowners, people on a limited income, the working poor could all breathe a sigh of relief. Local government and state government would have to live within their means. Oh, yeah? Think they can’t scam their own system?

So some genius came up with the idea of a “parcel tax,” an incremental layer of fees on top of property taxes. And since it would take a 2/3 majority to pass, it couldn’t possibly be abused, now could it? Citizens aren’t that gullible…are they?

And then our local leaders turned to us and said, “Want a new library? Well, we can’t possibly afford to do that out of the ordinary city budget. If you really want that library, you’re going to have to pass a parcel tax. Want to keep that hospital open? When minutes count? You’re going to have to pass a parcel tax. Schools! Our schools are going broke! The State is taking away all that money! You’re going to have to pass another parcel tax!”

Meanwhile, almost 70 people working for the City make in salaries and benefits more than $200K a year. Teachers negotiate sweetheart deals and smaller class sizes to avoid layoffs, even as enrollment declines. And so long as we are told that without those new taxes these horrible consequences will result — no library! no hospital! no schools! — we pony up.

It gets worse. In the midst of scamming us with parcel taxes that get around Prop. 13, the snake oil salesmen came up with another scam. “Let’s also exempt the seniors from paying those taxes, but let them vote to impose them on everyone else!” (That’ll fix that 2/3 majority requirement, you betcha!)

And so far, the senior citizens have fallen in as co-conspirators every time. “Sure, we’ll vote for a new library, especially if it doesn’t cost us anything! Schools? Oh, the little darlings! Please don’t close that hospital and throw me into the Oakland briar patch!”

You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, but you sure can fool 2/3 of the people every once in awhile. Maybe our local electric utility should go into the cable TV business, eh? Now, there’s a scam I can get behind!

©2010 Dennis Green (Published on Action Alameda News with the express permission of the author.)

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