Hernando Commissioner Wayne Dukes is afraid of direct democracy. That is the tardy rationale offered for his continued obstinacy on county fiscal matters. Two weeks after rejecting a swap of environmental lands money for mosquito control — with both tax districts to be considered by voters in 2012 — Dukes tried to explain his position publicly after declining Commissioner John Druzbick's past invitation to do so.
Here is Dukes' logic as delineated Tuesday evening at the final public hearing on Hernando County's' 2012 budget:
He does not oppose mosquito control, he said, and he had been misunderstood "by choice in some cases.
"My concern was that there is a lot of people here in this county that like the sensitive land funds and also ... most people, as we found out, like to have some sort of mosquito control.
''My concern is at the end of the day they will both be put on the ballot and both approved, which will generate a tax increase.''
There you have it. Dukes is worried the public might actually vote to tax themselves for services they find beneficial. What a concept.
So, being an obstructionist is tied to being arrogant. Dukes would rather short-circuit a referendum than conflict with his tea party philosophy. It is an insult to the electorate and, unfortunately, overshadows what should be a legitimate public debate.
The issue of establishing separate taxing districts for functions contained in the general fund budget is worthy of a thorough public discussion.
Twice in the past three years, the commission majority turned down a separate, stand-alone tax district for law enforcement. Still, over the summer, at the suggestion of Commissioner David Russell, the commission — with no dissent from Dukes — said it would move proceeds from the sensitive lands tax to finance mosquito control for two years.
The plan calls for asking voters in November 2012 if they want to make the mosquito control district permanent and if they want to extend the environmental lands tax for two years to recapture the diverted funds.
It is far from an ideal solution to paying for a necessary government service (mosquito spraying) simply because the commission is reluctant to embrace a larger tax rate increase. But at least commissioners are willing to allow voters the final say.
Dukes doesn't even want that. He temporarily spiked the plan two weeks ago when he voted against the tax swap. The staff and rest of the commission believed his vote killed funding for mosquito spraying because of the mistaken assumption that state law required a unanimous vote. The issue returned to the board after the county attorneys and the state Department of Revenue confirmed a majority vote was sufficient.
Dukes again dissented Tuesday and said the county could have found money for mosquito spraying without tapping the environmental lands fund. If that is the case, he should share his identified cost-savings in a general fund budget that absorbed multimillion-dollar cuts.
It is easy to pander. Solutions require leadership.