My View: Editorial Misses Point on Tax Discussion, Council Right to Discuss Options Early

city-budgetWhile I often disagree with Davis Enterprise editorial policies, rarely have I found their discussion as misinformed and wrongheaded as in their blurb on Tuesday’s preliminary tax discussion in the Friday “Cheers and Jeers” segment.

In the blurb on the taxes, the editorial board of the Enterprise wrote, “Jeers to the timing of the City Council’s discussion of its next bid to siphon dollars from our wallets. While a parcel tax to fund overdue road repairs may well be needed, the discussion just one week after the approval of Measure O, the half-percent sales tax increase, was like rubbing salt in the wound.”

They continue, “First, let’s have a wide-ranging, public conversation about ways to boost our city’s revenue stream that don’t involve taxes — specifically, business parks or so-called ‘innovation centers.’ We have at least two opportunities on the near horizon to add to our business base — the Nishi property and land east of Mace Boulevard — and these must be seized if we’re to dig out of our endless budget problems. High-tech, locally based businesses like Marrone Bio Innovations and FMC Technologies Schilling Robotics want to stay in Davis, but we lack the facilities for them to expand.”

They conclude: “Let’s give ourselves a chance at generating more revenue rather than piling additional burdens on Davis residents.”

Two commenters immediately called them on it. Michelle Millet stated, “I would like to thank the city council for addressing the need of funding for road repairs ‘just one week after the approval of Measure 0.’ Our city has some serious financial decisions to make, delaying them to avoid ‘rubbing salt in our wounds’ seem a fiscally irresponsible one that I’m glad our council did not make.”

An unnamed commenter would add, “If people were paying attention, the City Council’s plan to address the budget deficit was clear: 1) ask for a modest sales tax increase in June; 2) ask for a parcel tax increase in November; 3) aggressively pursue an Innovation Park.”

From our perspective the Enterprise got this completely wrong. First, as the unnamed poster pointed out, this was not a bait and switch situation where the council waited until the sales tax was approved to pounce with the second tax. From the start they had made it clear that the sales tax was only the first part of addressing revenue needs.

Second, the timing was of necessity. The council would have to act by the end of July to put a parcel tax measure on the ballot. They had a set workshop set for next week and the item this past week simply laid out the options.

The council has just two more regularly scheduled meetings set between now and the end of July when they would have to act. They could add meetings later in July if need be, but the Enterprise misses the point – why push off the discussion of a new tax?

From the rest of the blurb, it seems that the Enterprise wants to wait on the tax measure, much as Dan Carson yesterday suggested we wait. That may ultimately be the right move and may ultimately be what the council does. But they have to be able to discuss that in order to figure it out and, why wait? The council will take a full two hours on Tuesday to thoroughly discuss the options available to them.

Finally, in response to the Enterprise, we get the need for generating more revenue, but an innovation park is not going to solve short-term revenue needs and it’s certainly not going to enable the city to take out revenue bonds to repairs its roadways, parks and building infrastructure. To suggest that is irresponsible in my opinion.

Rich Rifkin made a comment yesterday on the Enterprise site, saying, “We have a City Council whose actions have been so irresponsible for so long that our general fund can no longer pay for basic services, including roads, sidewalks, building and facility maintenance and other infrastructure repairs.”

He adds, “But for the latest tax increase, the City would have had to lay off about 50 of its employees, just to cover the added compensation costs for its retirees and the remainder of the current employees. And you write that you are glad the Council did not make a fiscally irresponsible choice by delaying discussion of a new tax for road repairs? Isn’t that like thanking a thief for not breaking down your door after he finished burglarizing your home?”

In my view that misses several essential points. First, most of the problems were not caused by the current council. Come July 1, Rochelle Swanson will be the only councilmember on the council in 2010, and Dan Wolk will be the only other one on the council before 2012.

Second, what is done is done. We need to fix the problems, going forward, and we need to have those discussions immediately.

We criticized the council last year for failing to discuss revenue options between the passage of the budget in early July and December. We’re now going to criticize the council for having those tough discussions early? Sorry, that just doesn’t make sense.

I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that the council rubbed salt in the wound, after passage of a very small tax, to talk about the next stage of revenue needed to perform basic functions in the city.

We have spent countless pages criticizing past councils and the actions of public employee groups, but the citizens themselves bear some responsibility for allowing the situation to get out of hand. They were asleep at the wheel, they were complacent, they continue to elect councils that passed unsustainable budgets and agreed to unsustainable contracts.

The voters were part of the problem and now that we are in a crisis, they bear a good deal of responsibility for getting us out of this crisis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 Comments

  1. Michael Harrington

    David: I could not agree more with your article. And there needs to be one more big round of cutting city employee overhead. And I’m talking the big fat packages, not victimizing the rank and file who do the real work in the field.

  2. Barack Palin

    What surprised me is the talk of a new much higher parks parcel tax which is now being thrown into the equation. As far as I know that wasn’t being put out there until after the election.

    I agree with Michael Harrington, there are still more cuts to be made in both unneeded positions and cutting some of the fat packages.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think the idea of a parks tax will be DOA. One councilmember told me a $50 parcel tax for roads is sufficient to deal with that issue. That numbers seems a little on the low side, but I think it’s in the ballpark of what they’ll do. But this discussion needs to happen now even if they decide to wait.

  3. Michael Harrington

    I want to see the fat package cuts before new taxes. We were robbed in 2006 by Saylor and cronies, and the damage continues. The City has to cut the upper packages first before new taxes. One more round. Use the interim City Manager to do the deed, then hire the nice but strict controls City Manager.

    1. David Greenwald

      First, the interim City Manager isn’t going to do anything. Second, I’ve long been in favor of a ten percent across the board pay cut for the upper brass, but that’s not going to reduce real money to use on roads.

  4. Michelle Millet

    We have spent countless pages criticizing past councils and the actions of public employee groups, but the citizens themselves bear some responsibility for allowing the situation to get out of hand. They were asleep at the wheel, they were complacent, they continue to elect councils that passed unsustainable budgets and agreed to unsustainable contracts.

    There is a lot truth in this statement. We can blame council members all we want, but they didn’t get there by magic, we put them there, and thus IMO bear responsibility for the consequences of their choices.

    We can and should continue to attempt to reduce employee compensation costs and search for other ways to reduce “waste”. But in the meantime the roads, sidewalks, and green belts are deteriorating. If it weren’t for the fact that cost to fix them grew exponentially as time goes on I’d say fine let them go to gravel until we can figure out a way to generate more revenue or cut enough from our budget to repair them. That can be our punishment for not paying attention to the fiscal decisions our past councils have made. But that is not the case. Delaying repairs will mean paying more, apparently a lot more, and thus from a fiscal perspective makes absolutely no sense.

  5. Michael Harrington

    From my experiences with other public works programs I refuse to automatically accept the sky is falling. I know there are some expert reports out there and I will read them but I’m going to need someone with independent credentials tell me chicken little is flying overhead and about to flop down.

  6. Barack Palin

    “The voters were part of the problem and now that we are in a crisis, they bear a good deal of responsibility for getting us out of this crisis.”

    I disagree, the voters didn’t know when they voted for a council member that that council member would sell out the farm to public employees just as they didn’t know that the last sales tax hike was all going to get given to the firefighters. That would be like liberal Democrat voters knowing ahead of time that Obama was going to run our national debt to over $17 trillion or know that the White House was going to use the IRS to harrass their opponents then say that somehow all the damaging emails just got lost.

    1. David Greenwald

      “the voters didn’t know when they voted for a council member that that council member would sell out the farm to public employees ”

      They were told in 2008 that’s exactly what happened and voted for Saylor and Souza anyway.

  7. Michael Harrington

    The Wagstaff CC was duped about the 3% at 50. It happens. The trick is to fix it.

    One more big round of cuts to the fat packages before coming to taxpayers for more money would be an excellent start for the Wolk Mayorship to mend fences and build new bridges.

    1. David Greenwald

      Several problems.

      First, can’t fix 3% at 50.

      Second, if you wait until after the 2015 MOUs, then it probably adds $10 to $20 million AT LEAST to the roads costs.

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