Guest Post: Thoughts on The Transit Levy, and Experiences from the Past

Soaking Generation Zero

[Note from Admin: Contains some Coarse Language, Reader Discretion Advised]
This guest blog entry begins with two stories.

Guest post written by Andy Cawston of West Auckland

The first story was from my youth.  It was the very first time I was ever eligible to vote.  Times were tough, and one of the politicians in particular campaigned in a platform that carried significant appeal to me.  “You want to know our policy?  Our policy is simple: we are going to Soak The Rich.”

“Yeah.” I nodded in full assent.  “Yeah.  Soak the rich.  Those rich bastards deserve to be soaked!”

“The Rich shall pay, and pay handsomely.  There will be no free rides for The Rich!  This gravy train is at its last stop, and we are going to tell them where to Get Off!”  This candidate was magic.  He was pushing all my hot buttons.

“Yeah.  THIS is where you get off!  The free ride is over!”  I worked hard, back then.  I was studying at school, and I was working nights.  It was hard work – I slept on the bus, and during my boring lectures.  And those Thrice Dam’ned Rich had it easy!  I had to earn every cent of my meagre $14,000 salary!  All to help The Rich get even richer!

And so it was with some high moral dudgeon that I proudly strode into the polling booth and marked my ballot.  The Rich were going to pay, and pay handsomely!  We’re going to soak them bastards real good!  No more free rides for The Rich!  This is where they get off!  Having done my part for Democracy, I went home and awaited the election results.  Predictably, the soak-The-Rich message resonated with more than a few of my fellow countrymen, and my candidate got into power.

Imagine my dismay when I learned that, at $14,000 per annum, I was earning above the median wage, and that I was one of The Rich!  I got exactly what I had voted for – I got soaked.

This taught me a valuable lesson that I have followed religiously from that day until this: “Never vote with another man’s wallet.”  If a political platform is going to target an identifiable segment of society for harm, it is bad policy and should not be supported with my vote.

The second story was from my young adulthood.  My wife and I had just bought our first house, I was making lots of money, and had our first child – a son.  He was a good kid.  We sent him to a pre-kindergarten playground near our home.

After work, it was my habit to sit down with my son and ask him how his day went, and he would ask me the same.

“Son, how was your day?” I asked.

“I had a good day today, Dad.  But Ugo didn’t.”  Ugo was my son’s best friend.  He was a big kid for his age, and none too bright.

“What happened to Ugo?” I asked.

“Ugo did a JumpFuck!” my son answered, innocently.

“WHAT!!!???”  Our kids were brought up not to swear, even tho’ I sometimes provided a bad example.  It was not permitted in our household – a rule strictly enforced by The Missus, with soap if necessary.

My son looked at me with a puzzled look on his face.  “You know, a JumpFuck.”

“Maybe you better tell me.  And it better be good, mister!”

“Well,” he said, “At recess time we all went outside to play on the adventure playground.  It was Ugo’s turn to go on the slide – the big one – so he climbed to the very, very top of the ladder.  Rather than sitting on his bottom and sliding down feet-first – like we’re supposed to do – he jumped off the top instead, and hit his head on the swing, and rolled on the ground holding his head, and screamed FUCK!  You know, a JumpFuck.”

I nearly choked on my glass of beer, and filed that highly-descriptive terminology away for future reference, while explaining (with some difficulty) that it wasn’t a very nice word to use.

But JumpFuck precisely describes a self-inflicted injury that should be punished as such.  It is a natural part of the Human Condition, and so whenever anybody commits a JumpFuck it should be celebrated by everybody who didn’t.

It occurs to me this Budget Vote has classic elements from both of these stories in it.  On 7 May 2015 the New Zealand Herald reported that Generation Zero supported the extra spending proposed in the budget for transit.  This spending is to be funded by way of a $114 targeted rate, or Transit Levy, to be paid by ratepayers.  I recall being surprised by this: while it is perfectly lawful for The Council to raise a targeted rate for whatever it wants, it is normal for long-term assets to be funded by debt, not by rates.  This is because funding by debt permits the long-term asset to be paid for over an extended period of time, approximating its likely life-cycle.  This spreads the burden out across the multiple generations that are likely to benefit from the asset.  That, coupled with fully funding depreciation and maintenance, tends to be the fairest way of achieving inter-generational equity.  It is fair to everybody.

Funding long-term assets by rates is usually frowned upon, because it lumbers the current generation with all the costs of acquiring the long-term asset.  Depreciation and maintenance, presumably, still get spread out over the useful lifespan of the asset – thereby only partially achieving inter-generational equity.

Therefore, when this targeted transit rate was first mooted, I worked my eyebrows a fair bit over the implications of this.  Today’s ratepayers would be paying for some fairly significant long-term assets – which is a fairly expensive proposition.  Times are tough, and unlike what some people in government believe, there are lots and lots and lots of people in the Middle Class doing it really rough.  The last thing people need is to get clobbered by an insatiable SuperCity’s unreasonable targeted rate, as it comes on the back of a whole series of significant rate increases during very difficult economic times.

If that were all there were to it, it would be bad enough.  But it’s actually quite a bit worse.

Auckland’s property market is over-heated.  Generation Zero is having an exceedingly difficult time entering the property market, through no fault of their own.  Well-paying full-time jobs are scarce.  Rent is sky-high – which makes saving for a down-payment very difficult.  And even a modest home in Auckland’s outer suburbs is beyond the reach of most aspiring Generation Zero homeowners.  And so they must rent.  Forever rent.

I hated renting.  My wife and I rented for the first five years of our marriage.  It was no fun at all.  And our landlord – God Bless Him! – raised our rent by 10% every year, without fail.  If there were any increases in rates they would be passed on too, plus a bit extra “just in case.”  And he made me maintain the house and grounds in pristine condition.  “If I have to do anything to the property, it will be reflected in the rent I charge you.  Looking after the place keeps us even.  Don’t even think about damaging anything.”  I doubt our landlord was at all unique in this regard.  He was basically a slum lord who got his tenants to improve his property for him, all for the privilege of having a steady rent increase.

And so it was that I couldn’t understand why Generation Zero was so delighted with the targeted rate for Transit – $114 including GST.  Didn’t they realize they were going to be paying for it, not their landlords?  At minimum wage, that represents about 15 hours of hard work – all for Da Mare’s Transit pipe-dreams.

Then I realized what was going on: Generation Zero was doing what I did, way back then.  They were voting with another man’s wallet.  “Soak The Rich!  Them bastards own all the property, while we rent!  They can afford it!  They can pay for the Transit!  Why should we???  The Rich should pay, and pay handsomely!”

(shrug) Sure they should.  But they won’t.  They will pass it on to Generation Zero, by way of rent increases.  Plus a bit extra, “just in case.”  Mankind is a tawdry, grubby species.  We are going to soak somebody, alright – but it won’t be The Rich.  It will be Generation Zero – the young and poor renters.  It’s a grubby thing to do, but that is what is going to happen.

In this respect, Generation Zero has done a JumpFuck – which is the tie-in to the second story that began this blog entry.  Generation Zero thought somebody else would pay for their Transit system.  So they climbed up to the top of the slide, and instead of sitting on their bottom and sliding down feet first – like they were supposed to do – they’ve done what Ugo did all those many years ago…

The rent increases will happen ’round about the same time as Generation Zero hits their collective heads on the swing.  Then they’ll roll around on the ground holding their heads and screaming FUCK!

For this I can offer little consolation.  Only a little guidance, for what it’s worth.  Remember this painful lesson: because this is Realpolitik.  This is something Da Mare wanted to happen for you – so much so that he forced it to happen, even when everybody wiser was telling him no.  It was hubris and complacency on his part that brought us to this point.  Don’t blame your Ward Councilors – they were only doing what the rest of us told them to do.  Da Mare, on the other hand, is to blame.  Remember this at election time.

All homeowners are going to pay the Transit Levy.  We don’t like it – it’s not the best way to fund our transit system – but it is, at least, an acceptable way to do things.  It doesn’t spread out the inter-generational debt at all, and that is a little bit unfair.

What is alot unfair is that Generation Zero – the renters – are going to pay the Transit Levy for their landlords.  Plus a bit extra “just in case.”  Getting onto the property ladder just got a little bit harder.  What a dirty trick to play on our youngest members of The Citizenry.

And then I thought about it even harder.  Da Mare, too, has done a JumpFuck.  He thought the could spend and spend and spend with impunity, with utter contempt for The Citizenry.  And he thought he could get his own way, even when everybody was telling him no.  And he thought he could share culpability for his profligate and prodigal habits with his fellow Ward Councilors.  And so he sneaked in the Targeted Rate, pretended to consult on it, and claimed a mandate to do what he is doing.  He’s climbing the ladder to the top of the slide right now.  He’s not going to sit on his bottom and slide down feet first – like he’s supposed to – either.

No, Da Mare is going to JumpFuck instead…


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