May 08, 2014

Zoo Zoology

It's kind of fascinating to me how one of the most popular institutions in Ohio, the Columbus Zoo, lost a new levy Tuesday by a lopsided 70-30% margin.

As is often the case in a lopsided result, there's probably multiple factors at play. A perfect storm if you will.

The part that surprised me is that it displayed "the politics of envy": Franklin County voters resent that the zoo is in Delaware County and that Delaware doesn't pay property taxes to support the zoo. But that's the deal that's been in effect for many decades. What is it about our current political climate that is so disturbed about this? Is it a reflection of the bitterness of so many Americans that someone, somewhere has more than they do (i.e. dismay over the 1%)?

It also didn't help that the levy was continuous instead of the usual ten-year duration. Understandably voters don't like losing power or control.

But I think part of what doomed the levy was people not realizing the new downtown zoo made up only 9% of the total outlay, and that a lot of the money for the levy was replacing lost state money.

We're not a math-oriented society (i.e. look at our "skill" at federal budget-balancing or the ignorance of the fact that our entitlement culture is unsustainable). We're story-oriented, and the story that we were adding another small zoo downtown was probably way too much to take. It was taken by some to be a place for innercity kids to go - which, sadly, doesn't appear to inspire many voters, and by others to entertain out-of-town visitors, also a non-starter.

A comment on the Dispatch website was interesting: "The political leaders on the zoo Board should play a role to buffer citizens and taxpayers from the ambitions of a tax-funded agency, but they turn into cheerleaders for those ambitions instead."

If you think about it, that's what's going on all the time. Boards don't want to push back or represent the average Joe. Corporate boards rubber stamp CEO policies and pay extravagant CEO salaries and bonuses. School boards have become captive to school administrators and the unions instead of representing the taxpayer. Bank and corporate regulators rarely push back against or prevent abuses. It's sort of a "don't rock the boat" mentality and it's because these groups are often made up of former members of "the club". Corporate boards are former CEOs and lobbyists are former Congress members. It's a culture in which most leaders are unwilling to be unpopular and are more interested in preserving their jobs. Which is why in the rare case when a leader is willing to be unpopular, like Chris Christie before BridgeGate, some folks appreciate it.

No comments: