By Inga Barks
We all know nothing in life is free. We know the "buy-one-get-one" offer must include a profit to the seller or he wouldn't do it. We know the "Kids under 12 get in free" is because they count on you buying food, drink and souvenirs for said "Kids under 12." Surely we are too cynical to believe that ANYTHING is free in this world (barring the kindness of a church or charitable organization).
Yet for some reason we lose all cynicism and logic where government is involved. For reasons I can't explain, when a telemarketer says "free," we ask "What's the catch?" When a car salesman says "free," we ask "Where's the hidden fee?"
But when government -- the MOST untrustworthy, MOST spend-crazed, MOST wasteful organization in the country -- says "free," we've come to believe it's true.
Take the case of Frazier Park schools in the El Tejon Unified School District. This summer, the district announced that students who ride the bus will be required to pay an $80 fee for the bus service. In this economy, with the price of everything from milk to bread to gas to gym memberships on the rise, one can certainly sympathize with the plight of parents finding out that their baby's education just got pricier. For some, $80 is nothing, but for others it may as well be $1,000!
As a recently widowed mother of three boys in the education system, I definitely appreciate how much $80 means to the household budget. As a conservative, I couldn't help wonder if these government services were ever actually "free."
Enter Fernando Nieto, director of transportation for the El Tejon school district. According to Nieto, while pencils, paper and other things that facilitate education must be supplied by the schools (according to state ed code), school buses are not a government mandate. But since parents weren't getting a bill, bus services seemed free in the El Tejon district up to this point.
But even the seemingly free transportation isn't REALLY free. It's funded out of the district budget, which is supported by your tax dollars (local and state). But, according to Nieto, as the state stopped sending funds that helped the schools with their budget, the transportation costs began to run a deficit. Thus the not-free-in-the-first-place bus service became a fee-for-service bus service.
The good news for those who don't have the scratch to cover the $80 fee is that there are ways to get a discount or even make payments. El Tejon wants to work with those parents for whom the fee is a burden. Bravo to them!
Still, It caught my attention that in news reports about the new bus fee, even the TV reporters joined parents in using the term "free" regarding the bus service. They reported that parents were angry because buses used to be "free." Parents stated that when they were kids in the area, the bus was "free."
Isn't it amazing (or depressing) that we live in a time when otherwise reasonable adults actually believe that something from the government is free and not funded by their own taxes? I mean no disrespect to those parents and reporters, but do they all think that buses are funded with magic beans?
I've heard it suggested that if we all had to write a check every month for each item that is currently automatically deducted from our paychecks, we might be a little angrier about how much we pay in taxes and how little we get in return. But I fear that we have grown so accustomed to not reading our pay stub that we forget about our gross income, plan our lives on the net income, and assume that everything from education to street sweeping and firefighters to President Obama's healthcare plan is actually free!
Others among us assume that because they pay little or no income tax, that tax increases like the one Gov. Jerry Brown is pimping for the November ballot is just for the rich. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if you aren't in the highest tax brackets, you still buy things, don't you? Even the poorest among us who buy things pay taxes (and they'll pay more if Brown's tax increases pass).
School buses were never free. They have always been funded by tax dollars. As are "free" lunches and "free" community water parks and "free" police response when we dial 911.
I think the parents in the El Tejon district should be angry about the new fee. Not because they are suddenly paying for a service they thought was free, but because they were already paying for it and now have to pay more for the same service! My friends, nothing from government is free. In fact, you're probably paying too much!
-- Inga Barks, who hosts a talk show on KMJ AM 580, is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. You can email her at email@example.com. These are Barks' opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Next week: Ric Llewellyn.