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Crowd gathers for constitutional debate

    A debate between Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors member Liz Bass and Sonora City Councilman Dave Sheppard drew a packed house Friday night.
    The event, held in the Board of Supervisors chambers, was billed as debate on the U.S. Constitution but it touched on a number of topics, including Proposition 13, federal taxes and bureaucrats.
    The event was sponsored by Tuolumne County Following America’s Constitution in Today’s Society, TCFACTS, which organizers describe as a nonpartisan society. The event was moderated by Greg Applegate, former city administrator and current executive director of the Sonora Area Foundation.
    Applegate was given a prepared list of questions by TCFACTS.

    “Should Proposition 13 be eliminated to save California from bankruptcy?” Applegate asked early on in the debate.
    Proposition 13, passed in 1978, capped the annual growth of property taxes.
    “California is going bankrupt because of government spending, not Prop. 13,” responded Sheppard, who came armed with a variety of information and theories about the Constitution.
    Bass, who approached the debate from an anecdotal perspective, noted that she was working in education at the time of the Proposition 13’s passage and was worried about the law resulting in dwindling revenue.
    But as the daughter of aging parents, she also saw the benefit to Proposition 13.
    “The idea of being priced out of your home was terrifying,” she said.
    Some blame the proposition’s property-tax cap for cutting into government revenues, while others say it keeps home ownership from becoming unaffordable.
    Next, Applegate asked the duo if the country would be better served economically if local governments raised and spent a larger portion of public funds, as opposed to the state or federal governments.
    “Emphatically yes,” Sheppard responded.
    He added that he preferred to see the federal government stick to its “core functions.” He also bashed “layers of government” that “drain essential funds.”
    Bass, noting that she sometimes gets criticized by right-leaning constituents, told the crowd that local control depends on who gets elected. 
    “Are these guys sure they want local government (control) if I’m what they get?” she said.
    Applegate next asked what’s the best way local governments can keep control over their funds.
    Sheppard said money should be redirected away from big-government bureaucracy.
    Among the federal government functions that should be eliminated, according to Sheppard, are: the Department of Education, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.
    Bass simply commended Gov. Jerry Brown for attempting to give local governments more control. Brown’s budget proposal calls for massive cuts and giving oversight for certain programs to local governments.
    “It’s a political philosophy that’ s gaining strength,” she said.
    “Should bureaucracies founded by Congressional decree be allowed to make law?” Applegate asked next. The specific example he gave was the Federal Communications Commission “taking control of the Internet despite rulings in the negative by federal judges.”
    The example was in reference to a spring 2010 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals that stated the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic.
    The vote was heralded by big Internet providers that had questioned the FCC’s authority to impose such “network neutrality” obligations on them. Open Internet advocates, meanwhile, lamented the court ruling, saying it could result in tiered pricing and price non-corporate websites out of the market.
    “No government bureaucracy should be able to infringe” on citizens’ rights, was Sheppard’s response to the FCC question.
    Bass noted that “the Internet was developed with taxpayer dollars,” and the decision to do that, she said, came not from bureaucrats, but “elected people.”
    Applegate next asked the duo if only property owners should be allowed to vote when it comes to increasing property taxes and how those taxes are used.
    Bass, who noted that she was a renter for 25 years, responded that property taxes affect both owners and renters.
    “Those property taxes went up and so did my rent,” she said.
    Sheppard didn’t express outright support for such a scenario, but he worried that in certain areas where most people are renters, renters can “disenfranchise property owners.”
    Contact Walt Cook at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 588-4530.

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