Ask politicians what they’re not telling


As we face a brand new year, it is only normal that we should reflect upon both our past and our future. Sometimes I reflect upon one of the biggest lessons I learned from dealing with people. It is not a lesson on getting along; it’s rather a lesson on understanding the world as it is.

That lesson dawned on me when I studied securities law, in law school, nearly 45 years ago. It came from my being exposed to Securities and Exchange Commission rule 10b-5, on fraud. The rule made it clear that in a securities transaction it is possible to commit fraud by failing to tell something important.

The lesson for me was this: it is often not what others tell you that you should watch out for, it’s what they don’t tell you. (That assumes they are not exaggerating or lying; we’ll leave that for another day.)

The problem, of course, is that sometimes we don’t know what we should ask. One could always ask, Is there any question I have not asked you to which you think the answer would be important for me? Where that would lead you is unclear, but it is not a bad idea.

As my past columns have often revealed, the subject of taxes has been of interest to me. Many may not recall this, but at one time I provided in The Citizen a whole series of articles on local school financing and the history of the sales tax in Fayette County.

In recent weeks I observed, once again, stirrings from within the City Council of Peachtree City about subjecting our voters to yet another SPLOST vote. Some people just love that pernicious way of raising our taxes by making us vote for it, and sure enough there are enough people going to the polls who will read the 50 lines of text which describe all the marvelous projects that are proposed that overwhelm the one line that says your tax will go up by, according to some, just a penny.

As there is no shortage of SPLOST lovers out there, and of course no shortage of projects our various elected officials would like to finance, the thought occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, there is something we are not told that we ought to consider.

Well, yes, there is.

There are two points to consider here. One is where the money is to come from. The second one is what the money is to be spent for.

The elephant in the room, as it turns out, the one thing nobody is bringing up, is the price of oil and its influence on government spending.

In the Atlanta area, the price of a gallon of gas went down from about $4 a gallon in June 2008 to $1.90 in December 2015. In the same period, the price of a barrel of oil went from $145.58 to $37.04.

Think about all the school buses run by our school system, think about all the patrol cars and service vehicles run by our local government, and you’ll understand that our government agencies have been given a wonderful opportunity to spend less than they had budgeted.

Because so many proposed projects involve roads, it may also be fair to point out that asphalt is made with oil. When the price of oil goes down as much as it has, the price of paving roads should be going down.

There you have it. Net government revenues are improved from reduced spending on necessary items like gas for school buses, police patrol cars, employee travel allowances and other items dependent on using oil-based fuel. Proposed expenditures on road paving and repairing are also reduced. Couldn’t the savings be applied toward the new projects?

Perhaps I live in a cocoon and have not heard all the politicians out there who publicly acknowledge our various governments are saving lots of money, compared to what they expected when setting their budgets, from the glaring reduction in oil prices.

The cat is now out of the bag. Let those who love SPLOST say all they want; it is still wise to ask whether there is not something that they have not told us that it might be important for us to consider.

There might be.

[A resident of Fayette County, Claude Y. Paquin is a retired lawyer and actuary and long-time contributor to The Citizen.]