In addition, on Sunday, the Davis Enterprise published an op-ed written by four of the Davis City Councilmembers and three other individuals in support of the sales tax renewal.
League of Women Voter’s Forum
She continued, “This tax brings in about three million dollars which is huge in terms of our budget. By comparison our reserve is only a little over five million. Meaning if this doesn’t pass, we will run through our reserves in less than two years, we’ll be broke.”
Councilmember Greenwald suggested that some people have been happy with the way we make our budget decisions while others are unhappy. “As people know, I’ve been one of the biggest critics of some of our budget decisions. I’ve worked hard to try to get my way.” But she said, “But we’re a democracy and we have the budget we have.” She went on to argue that it is really critical if we want to keep our current level of services that we renew this tax measure.
“If you’re not happy with the decisions that the council’s made,” she said, “the thing to do is run for office yourself or find someone who will vote the way you want them to. Otherwise, as I view it, it’s kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
She said that the current recession has resulted in huge declines in local revenue. Even if this passes, she acknowledged, we will have to continue to cut city spending. However she said, “If it doesn’t pass, the situation’s really dire.”
“We don’t want to destroy the city out of some irritation with some decisions that we might not have agreed with.”
David Musser responded, “The reason that the city is a financial crisis is not because residents are failing to support the city with money, it’s because the city made some really bad decisions. Our residents are starting to pay for those decisions now.”
He continued, “I don’t like Measure Q because it sends the message to the city that we’re just going to hand them a blank check. They can mismanage our money, mismanage with the employee negotiations, the fact that now some of the employees are making $100,000 a year, and if we go ahead and support this, that they’ll just continue to do that. Then there will be less money for our programs.”
He further pointed out that these kinds of taxes are regressive, disproportionately impacting the lower income people as opposed to the higher income people.
In the argument for Measure Q, Mr. Musser pointed out, there was no acknowledgment or even mention of changing the way city fiscal policies have been conducted. He said, “The city just says to the citizens, you need to put up with this if you care enough about… well you should just do whatever we say you should do. I think that’s a little bit arrogant.”
“Citizens,” he argued, “are very much hurt by the recession as well. That means their ability to pay taxes. It’s not just the city’s ability to finance things, it’s citizen’s ability to pay. The city doesn’t mention that, they only seem to care about how their own skins are on the line.” He continued, “I think the city has a history of taking individual’s support for granted. I think that No on this measure is important to send the city a message that you can’t simply take our money, mismanage it, and then expect to get more.”
A critical question was asked of Mr. Musser which is if the Measure Q did not pass, what would have to be cut in order for the budget to be balanced. “As far cuts go, parks and rec obviously is a place I might start, but the bottom line really is, the sizable majority of our money is being spent on the employee contracts and the city needs to be held accountable for negotiating these contracts. If they don’t negotiate those contracts well, then you can’t just simply hand them more money because you know that that money is going to go down a rat hole and it’s not going to do what you need it to do.”
I will get back to this point shortly.
Op-Ed on Measure Q
“Without the revenue stream that the Measure Q renewal provides, the fiscal outlook for the city will be truly dire, and services cuts will seriously degrade our quality of life,” they write. “The revenue that is generated by this half-cent sales tax supplement supports police, fire and emergency services. It helps to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks and bike paths. It also goes toward street trees, landscape and parks maintenance.”
They go on to argue that the proposed 2010-11 proposed budget “continues a three-year series of cost containment budget measures. If the budget is adopted as proposed, the city will have implemented major general fund-balancing measures over the three years, including containment of increases in labor costs, and $1.8 million in direct program reductions. In total, general fund-supported staffing levels will have been reduced by more than 40 positions over this three-year period.”
They then go on to list out the following features of the previous year’s adopted budget that they argue “are aimed at further advancing the city’s overall goal of long-term fiscal stability.”
First they argue that it provides “citywide general fund cost savings.” “These include reductions in overtime, travel and training, and implementation of more aggressive general fund cost recovery. While this category is distinguished from program reductions, there nonetheless are programmatic impacts of reduced staffing, whether at the management, supervision or line-staff levels.”
Second, they argue with regards to personnel costs, “We have significantly reduced the increases in labor costs that were built into our long-range budget, and have taken the first steps toward reforms on our benefits.”
The 2009-10 budget plan included significant short-term savings. So far, these negotiations are on track to achieve that level of employee concession. Agreements have been reached with three groups, and we are proceeding through impasse with the one remaining employee bargaining group to assure that we achieve our goals.
In 2010, we began negotiations with the remaining employee groups and expect to achieve significant cost-saving structural changes to our benefits package. These structural changes in the compensation packages are critical to achieving fiscal sustainability.
Third, they reduced programs. “These include budget reduction proposals offered by individual departments. For 2009-10, departments were directed to submit proposals to meet specific expenditure reduction targets (7 percent for nonsafety and 5 percent for safety departments), totaling roughly $2 million. These program reductions represent the most direct negative effect to services provided to the community, and were implemented as a last resort, pending evaluation of all other cost-saving opportunities.”
They go to argue that they have attempted to keep the level and quality of services as a top priority and they have done all of this “in spite of state takeaways of more than $16.5 million since the adoption of the half-cent sales tax override.”
The op-ed puts about as positive a possible spin on the fiscal situation as is possible. Elsewhere I have gone to great lengths to demonstrate the insufficiency of the city’s budget reform measures. This is the rhetoric we heard all along that people such as Lamar Heystek and Sue Greenwald exposed for what it was – empty rhetoric. There was no real cost savings after the second year. The salary decreases fell short of what was needed. Those shortfalls forced the city to dip into their reserves, leading to the need this year for an additional $1.8 million in cuts. We laid off additional employees and deleted positions, meaning city services have been diminished, despite the spin to the contrary, there is no way the city can operate at its lowest levels of staffing in over a decade without substantial service cuts. And the idea that the city has even begun to address the unfunded retirement health liabilities or the pension problem is frankly laughable.
Therefore, I find the Op-ed to be more of the same rhetoric that was used to justify the passage of the budget in 2009 that Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek opposed and to justify the passage of the MOU’s that were passed, except for PASEA, by similar 3-2 votes.
When Davis passed the original tax measure back in 2004, they did under the guise of preserving city services. Instead what we saw in the years following the passage of Measure P, a huge increase in employee salaries. In fact, the 36% increase in fire salaries that followed the last round of employee bargaining negotiations consumed nearly the entire amount of Measure P half-cent sales tax. In short, this tax measure subsidized the firefighters receiving an average of $140,000 per year in total compensation.
The last round of MOU’s did little to change this. And now we are locked into three year contracts with fire and management that will do little to change the core problems that our city faces with its budget. With employee bargaining negotiations off the table until 2013 at the earliest, we are forced to contemplate what life without the half-cent sales tax, an additional loss of $3 million in revenues might look like.
This leads me to the response by David Musser when asked for a proposal of what services would be cut should Measure Q not pass.
The city is already working on this contingency. This was in last week’s budget staff report:
“Given the level of cost-savings and reductions implemented to-date, it is clear that the ½ cent sales tax is critical to the City’s ability to sustain our core and essential services. It will be impossible to support the current (albeit reduced) levels of public safety services, maintenance of infrastructure (including facilities, parks, greenbelts and open space), and advance our overall goals related to environmental sustainability, economic development and programming for youth and seniors without the resources to do so. In essence, the loss of revenues represented by the Sales Tax would force us to re-evaluate core services and reduce programs to levels not seen in many years.
The City Manager’s Office and department heads are currently engaged in an evaluation of all city programs and services and developing criteria to guide recommendations for future program reductions (whether these are necessitated by the results of the June election, or the need for further budget-reductions in subsequent fiscal years), and could inform upcoming Council direction related to the renewal of the Parks Maintenance Tax, expiring in 2012.”
Last year when Lamar Heystek opposed the proposed budget, instead of merely saying no, he presented an alternative. At that point, it was not merely a matter of saying no, but rather there was something to say yes to. The council could look at alternative scenarios and ended up in fact trying to split the difference.
This is a tremendous shortcoming in the No on Measure Q campaign – the failure to present what the city budget will look like if Measure Q does not pass. The city does not need specifics to make their case, they can state it will be bad and talk about cuts to public safety and other core services. We have seen tentative proposals from Paul Navazio that look bad enough, these included an 8% across the board cut, and a contingency that attempted a reduced cut for fire and police, and one that attempted no cut for fire and police. Each one presented a rather bleak scenario.
Without a counter-balance, a story to tell that says, this is not as bad as the city paints it, it is difficult for imagine that the No on Measure Q campaign succeeding. Unlike Woodland, the city is not changing policy but rather trying to keep the status quo. That puts the burden of proof on the No side, telling us why we should change current policy and explaining why things will not be worse with $3 million less in city revenue.
Indeed, it is probably the biggest problem with the entire debate, that there was never an alternative vision that was passed. Contrary to what Mr. Musser indicated, that was his responsibility. He did need to speak in specific terms, because the city’s counter is exactly what Sue Greenwald said when she indicated that she did not agree with the budget or fiscal priorities, but Measure Q’s failure at the polls would make it worse.
Mr. Musser tries to argue, “If they don’t negotiate those contracts well, then you can’t just simply hand them more money because you know that that money is going to go down a rat hole and it’s not going to do what you need it to do.” The problem with that argument is that the money for contracts is already going down the rat hole, which is probably not an appropriate characterization of the situation. By voting against Measure Q, it will not change anything that has been passed, or any of the contracts that have already been signed. Instead it will mean that we will have to have fewer employees, which means less services. It was Mr. Musser’s job to show us why that would not be worse than continuing the present level of funding and working to elect a new and more responsible council. Unfortunately, he never attempted to do that.
Time is running out to make a credible case against Measure Q, right now it seems likely that it will pass overwhelmingly. The bigger question is probably which council will manage those $3 million and will they do a better job of it than the 2004-2006 council did with the original tax measure.
—David M. Greenwald reporting