Saturday, April 25, 2015

Political Desk: Microtransactions

To the surprise of many King County residents, there is an election Tuesday. This is offest of the off-off-season elections, consisting of one main item (funding to replace the King County emergency radio network), but depending on your locality, there may something on transportation funds, schools, firefighting equipment, parks, or one case, an annexation.

The intent is good - we could really stand to upgrade the network and it makes things better for police, fire, EMTs, and other first responders.  But this sort of thing reminds me of nothing less than something in my own neck of the woods - microtransactions.

In games, in particular in tablet-games (Android, iPads), the current vogue is to give away the game for free, at the cost of the download and the fact that the manufacturer has some information on you. Then, you are offered small purchases within the game that cost real money (or more often, an in-game currency that is then purchased with real money).

There is a spectrum to how microtransactions are used - there are microtransactions which are cool-looking but do not directly affect game play (hats, special outfits, pets - fair warning, we do all of that in GW2), ranging to the point where to do almost anything in the game, or remain competitive with other players, you have to dish out some dosh (at which point I tend to walk away).

I'm thinking about microtransactions in this case because we have the baseline services of the community, paid for by a variety of taxes, service fees, guaranteed bonds and the like. And then something like THIS shows up, a good cause, good for the community, improves safety, and this improvement costs over and above the baseline.  And it is a good cause, because it is ALWAYS a good cause when they put this offering in front of us - I have yet to see proposition to, say, raise the mayor's pay or increase the number of county-owned vehicles. Because THOSE are covered in the budget, which we don't get to directly vote on.

But it is for a good cause. Such a good cause that the arguments against section in the voter's guide feels required to say "Of COURSE we need a new radio system". But then the "against" team worries that, should we tie this to the property tax, and then those property values drop, we would have to lay off first responders. Which sort of begs the questions of how these first responders are being paid in the first place, that they would otherwise be immune to reduced property taxes. Worse, the opposition team provides no alternative to the tax to raise funds for this.

And one more thing (who knew I would get so much mileage out of a single vote?). The "for" team has sent out fliers about how the original system was put in place in 1992, and as such is practically antique. Well enough, but the fliers also list the top five contributors to the campaign, and number one on the list is Motorola Solutions, which (you guessed it) makes radio systems for first responders.

Despite all this, I am still voting to Approve this tax hike, because, when it is all said and done, we really DO need to upgrade the system.I just want to be able to fund the salaries of the King County Councilpeople in the same way.

More later,