(Today’s print column)
Tuesday’s rejection of a local-option sales tax extension for flood protection looked razor close on paper.
But if you dig a little into the numbers, you’ll realize it’s one of those games that’s not really as close as the score indicates.
In 18 of Cedar Rapids’ 44 precincts, opposition to the tax topped 60 percent, compared to just three precincts where support hit 60 percent, according to unofficial results. The tax carried just 10 Cedar Rapids precincts total, failing 10,767 to 9,803 in the city, or roughly 53 percent to 48 percent. A 629-vote absentee voting advantage for backers was swamped by a 1,593-vote Election Day swing toward no.
The 60-percent-plus, no-voting precincts are scattered, from north of Boyson Road to south of U.S. 30. Fifteen of them were untouched by flooding in 2008, by my count, while three took on water.
But the tax extension also didn’t do so hot in the flood zone. Among seven precincts I sampled in the flooded heart of the city, the tax passed in two and failed in five, although it lost by just one vote in one and by two in another. Only one flood zone precinct, CR35, voting at the African American Museum of Iowa, posted 60 percent-plus support.
So basically, the extension took hits all over, from the core to high ground. Couple that with the fact that only about about two in 10 voters bothered to cast a ballot, and I think you’ve got a pretty clear signal.
And that signal is that a large, pricey, both-banks flood protection system is not a priority in this town. It’s an idea that was met on Election Day with animosity and apathy. Its merits couldn’t overcome dislike of taxes, distrust of City Hall, or any of the reasons big and small that voters checked no, or didn’t show up.
It was worth a shot. Two even. But barring a bolt from the blue, it’s shelved indefinitely.
Members of “We Can Do Better CR” say they hope to float another sales tax vote this year. The group’s plan would require, in part, that tax dollars be spent on river dredging, a concept that professional engineers, including the Army Corps of Engineers, have flatly dubbed expensive, ineffective and futile. If voters won’t pay a sales tax for protection measures that protect, why would they pay for a plan that won’t?
Instead, I think it’s time to get over it and move on. City leaders need to focus on coming up with the funding needed for east side protection. It has Corps support and would protect a lot of important private and public investments. An emotional appeal for two-sided fairness failed. It’s clear-eyed realism time.
And the hard reality is that Tuesday’s vote means our flood saga stumbles on through a fog of perpetual debate and uncertainty. The only conclusion is no conclusion.