A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Michael Kagan

With a $65 million shortfall in the budget of the City of Tacoma, how much time can the City Council afford to spend on non-budget issues? Finding a way to combine cuts in programs and services with increasing revenue is the most critical, most immediate agenda item. But are there a few hours in which our elected officials can discuss and pass a resolution stating that 'corporations are not people, and money is not speech?'

Tacoma would then join Seattle, Bellingham, and Port Townsend in asking the State Legislature to encourage the US Congress to pass an amendment to the Constitution to that effect. Almost 250 municipalities around the country have approved such a resolution, and Tacoma should add its voice to that chorus. The more cities and states that stand up for this cause, the more likely it is that Congress will notice and have to act.  Also read how your support now for this resolution can help the City of Tacoma (and other cities in the area) mitigate or eliminate similar budget disasters in the future.

A group of concerned citizens has met with five members of the Tacoma City Council. These include Jake Fey, Lauren Walker, Marty Campbell, Victoria Woodards, and Ryan Mello. Some were more supportive than others, but none of them opposed the idea. Their main concern was diverting time and energy from the very serious matter of the budget.

Though the Council would likely devote fewer than ten hours to the resolution process, some members expressed concern that their constituents might perceive that they are not working on the budget. On the other hand, concentrating solely on financial matters reaches a point of diminishing returns, where no more ideas, no better ideas are found.

Here is why it is important that the Tacoma City Council should pass this resolution:

For three decades, we have heard the term ‘trickle down’. Originally, it meant that prosperity would flow from the top down. Lately we have come to realize that what trickles down to the average person is the demand to reimburse financial institutions for their bad decisions. We must bail out industries that do not serve the interests of the majority, but the greed of the few. When banks lend money for questionable mortgages, they make money in the short run, but then lose even more when they foreclose on the homes. And the families in those homes lose their life savings and their dreams.

This trickles down to Tacoma and other cities, as jobs are lost, taxes can’t be paid, and demand for services increases. Cities and states, without the ability of the federal government to print money, suffer the double whammy of falling revenue and increasing expenses. But this catastrophic history does not need to be repeated. We do not have to continue to be forced into situations beyond our control. A little action now will reap great rewards in the future.

Council members spend ten to twelve hours a week during the election season raising money for their campaigns. Wouldn’t these hours be better spent doing the City’s business than ‘dialing for dollars’? Of course, the need for money is worse in races for higher offices. Is there any way to change this system? Why must money be such a determining factor in who influences not only elections but also policies and laws? How can we the people take back our electoral and legislative processes?

When the Tacoma City Council passes a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment, and Congress acts on it, and 38 states ratify it, we the people will have more influence in our governance. We can elect officials who will listen to us, because they are not beholden to the wealthy campaign contributors and corporate lobbyists who now tell them what to do. City councils, state legislatures, and Congress won’t have to address these disastrous budget issues over and over again in the future.

But how can we encourage the council members to take the little bit of time necessary to pass the resolution? How can we overcome the ‘perception’ that they are not doing the city’s crucial fiscal business if they devote a few hours to discuss and pass the resolution? There is much we can do, of course, and we must be assertive, consistent, and constant in our approach.

We can enlist the help of our families, neighbors, friends, associates, church groups, softball teams, book clubs, day care parents. Everyone can call, write, email, visit our council members, show up at their meetings being held around town, and encourage them to pass the resolution so we can all be free of undue corporate influence. The City Council is there to do our bidding. They know we want them to solve Tacoma’s financial problems, but we must show them we also want them to do what they can to get money out of politics. A majority of the Council is in favor of this action, but they need us to tell them it’s okay to do it.  

Similar efforts are being made across the country, and the groundswell will reach a critical mass if you take action and make your voice heard. Those of you in Puyallup, Fife, Milton, University Place, Lakewood, other cities in Pierce County and throughout Washington can get your councils to stand up for you, too.