Sunday, October 24, 1999

Do voters care enough to send the very best?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pawing through the racks of greeting cards at a Hallmark store, I found one that says, “I care about you. I'm concerned about you. You are important to me.” Another one says, “Congratulations. Your hard work is paying off.”

        The cards cost $2.50 each. Being a Hamilton County shopper, I'll pay another 15 cents for sales tax. And another 33 cents for postage. So, the total tab for a message of encouragement is $2.98. I don't actually have to do anything encouraging, including thinking of something original to say. I just have to cough up the money.

        This seems like a bargain.

A walk down geezer lane
        You will be ordering up stewed prunes and brochures about Miracle Ear for me when I confess that I can remember when these cards cost only a quarter. I didn't notice as prices edged up, probably because my income was edging up at the same time.

        I can also remember when candy bars were a dime and potato chips were a nickel. In case you have been on an all-tofu-all-the-time diet, you might be interested to know that a Snickers bar costs 60 cents these days and a dinky bag of chips is 55 cents.

        Even the price of turning your own personal lungs into charcoal briquettes has gone up. The last pack of cigarettes I bought 15 years ago cost 60 cents. Now, it would cost me $3.

        My friend Toby Wehby, who runs the coffee shop in our building, is trying to help me find something that costs 27 cents. Anything at all. He doesn't know what hare-brained scheme I have in mind, but I am a faithful customer, so he humors me. Even though I have chosen to ask stupid questions during the lunch rush.

        We figured out that you could blow your nose about 10 times for 27 cents (Kleenex) and get about five sticks of Juicy Fruit gum. We decided you can't get much for 27 cents. You can't even get a half-hour of parking at most downtown parking meters.

Playing with numbers
        I am checking into this because Brewster Rhoads thinks he has something valuable for 27 cents. He hands me a handsome pile of information about Issue 11, a request to voters for money to support Cincinnati Public Schools. Again.

        The last CPS levy passed in 1995. Since then, proficiency scores are up, SAT scores are rising, more kids are staying in school. “We promised voters we wouldn't come back to them for four more years,” Brewster says. “And we promised results. We are delivering.”

        (Unlike some people in football helmets.)

        If this 4.5-mill levy passes, it will cost the owner of an $80,000 house about 27 cents a day. It is worth noting that maybe the person in that house is not lucky enough to have his or her income edging up just now. And when you're living on a fixed income, every penny counts. You think twice before you buy a handful of Snickers bars. Or even a pack of gum. When voters step into the booth, they get to decide how much it is worth to live in a place where people are not ignorant and desperate.

        And as long as we're playing with numbers, you might want to notice how very powerful you are in this matter. In 1995, the school levy passed with a 53 percent majority. “If only eight yes votes per precinct had voted no instead,” Brewster says, “we'd have lost.” That is about one person per block, he adds.

        If this levy passes, it would be like sending a thank-you card to teachers and principals who have been working their tails off. It would be a note of encouragement to nearly 47,000 Cincinnati Public Schools students who might someday be in charge of your health care or your stock portfolio. Who might be the cop on the corner or the guy who fixes your car.

        We'd be saying, “I care about you.” And furthermore, “Congratulations. Your hard work is paying off.”

        Just 27 cents a day.

        Seems like a bargain.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.