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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Needs vs. wants" is a false choice

Many of the items on the sixth-penny sales tax ballot are essential for a modern community. Labeling them as "wants" is simply an effort to devalue them.

By D. Reed Eckhardt

Here we go again.

Every time there is a sixth-penny sales tax election, those who oppose this specific purpose tax trot out the threadbare argument of "needs vs. wants." They argue that most
of the proposals on the ballot are "wants," and they encourage Laramie County taxpayers to oppose them.

If you want to view the argument in its extreme, you can check out a recent column in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, "Starve the sixth-penny beast."

Expanding the Cheyenne Greenway is a proposal on the sixth-penny ballot.
But the idea that this a black-and-white choice -- support the "needs,"
such as streets, and oppose the "wants," like the two propositions supporting athletics facilities here in Cheyenne -- is false. It also is based on whose lens you view it through: If you like something on the list, it is a "need." If you don't like that same something, you classify it as a "want" and seek to cast it aside.

There are several truths that the "needs vs. wants" crowd ignores. The first is that a so-called "want" often becomes a "need" later. I suspect there were many people here who opposed the Greater Cheyenne Greenway as a "want" when it first was introduced. But the Greenway has become so interwoven into the fabric of the community that its expansion now is accepted as something the community "needs." Many other items labeled as "wants" in recent elections have more than proven themselves as things that a modern community "needs" if it is going to adequately serve its residents.

Similarly, many items seen as "wants," such as those athletics facilities, the Greenway expansion or funding for the city's West Edge, really are not. They are "needs," things that are essential if Cheyenne and Laramie County hope to compete for potential residents, to grow the workforce, and industries, to provide good jobs. These things are part of what modern communities -- like those along the Front Range -- offer. And if this area hopes to compete for the hearts and minds of young families and singles, then it is going to have to step up and offer them. The "needs vs. wants" crowd may not like that -- indeed, many of its members don't even want new faces, companies, and growth here. But the people of Laramie County have proven in recent tax elections that they understand the principle: Either you compete, or you wither away.

The bottom line is that if we want Cheyenne and Laramie County to grow and prosper, we are going to have to step up and take care of it ourselves. We have to put our pennies to work for this community through the specific purpose tax. There may have been a time when local residents could expect money to flow from the state or feds to fund some of that work, but those time are no more, and probably never will be again. Moving Cheyenne forward is on our shoulders, which means the "wants vs. needs" crowd must be rejected. Instead, each project on the May 2 ballot should be evaluated only on whether it will make this area better for current and potential residents alike.

Please understand, this does not mean every proposal should be blindly approved. Elsewhere on this blog, you will find another entry, "Not all sixth-penny projects are created equal." In it are my recommendations, and not all of them are "yes." But regardless, whichever measuring stick you use to support or oppose these projects, it should not be "needs vs. wants." That is a false approach which is best assigned to the dustbin of local history.

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. He has been a resident of Cheyenne for 18 years and has written about every sixth-penny election here since 2000.

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