Last night as I was home and relaxing I got a string of text messages railing against the city’s revenue measure. It is hard to know what is true versus what is posturing, but I was told that there is already an active opposition committee forming to the new taxes. And get this, it “will have progressive activists and tax conservatives.”
Can you imagine a group of “progressives” getting together to oppose a tax for parks and roads? The optics of that figure to be bad for what’s left of the old time progressive movement and it figures to get worse.
This was sent to me originally in response to the column yesterday, regarding the fact that Davis is unsustainable. As they put it in the text: “read your pro growth article… pushing growing pushing new taxes.”
The taxes themselves are growth neutral. If anything, you could argue they are anti-growth because they allow the city to maintain current levels of service without growth. I would argue them to be neutral, but I view them as a stopgap measure rather than a solution in and of themselves.
But to my broader point – and while there was a good discussion yesterday, a lot of people missed the point. I argued that Davis is not sustainable. Nobody disputed that. There were over 50 comments and no one argued, you’re wrong David, Davis can continue on the status quo path.
No. What people did argue against was my proposed or at least implied remedies. But the central thesis was left unchallenged, which I find intriguing. But I also find intriguing the fact that no
one proposed an alternative either. Some people do not want taxes and others do not want growth, but no one was able to connect their position to the issue of sustainability.
Back to my conversation.
One objection: “There is no fixed binding plan for cost reduction and containment. Are we supposed to trust the City to do it later if they get the tax revenue? There’s no plan to have a fixed list of exactly what the city would spend this new revenue on, and, Why don’t you write about these glaring deficiencies in their planning?”
Let’s unpack this because most of this is premature.
First of all, I have written on this numerous times that we need to have a cost-containment plan in place when the city puts the tax measure on the ballot. Without cost containment, as we know from the past, we simply eat up the revenue gains. I don’t know what the plan is for the city to do, but that is a potential shortfall of the revenue measure.
Second, they write: “There’s no plan to have a fixed list of exactly what the city would spend this new revenue on…”
This is one you don’t have to worry about, the parcel tax is required to have such a plan. I will explain in a moment the timing of all this.
Third, “No mechanism for a citizens committee with teeth to monitor the spending.”
Again, this is a premature complaint. The school district has the parcel tax oversight body. I’m not sure how much teeth it actually has, but it would be a good idea for the council to create such a body for this tax as well. That takes a motion when they put the thing on the ballot.
Finally they say, “Why don’t you write about these glaring deficiencies in their planning?”
Because it is premature to write about them. The council is not there yet. Even so, they are ahead of the game. What they established in December was the framework – they amount of the tax, the type of tax, and roughly what it would fund.
The next step will be for staff to actually write the tax measure. At such time they will have to create a list of what the revenue will be spent on. This is the advantage of having the two-thirds tax and why I favor it.
Yes, there is always a chance that the city can move revenue from existing monies and fund it with the parcel tax money and then free up general fund money for other purposes, but this is the best structure and mechanism to ensure that what they say the money is going to get spent on will actually get spent that way.
Will the council address cost containment? I sure hope so because, as I said, without cost containment, the revenue measure is largely negated. And I do agree that the council should have an oversight body – which hopefully can be used to ensure that (A) they are spending on what they said they would spend the money, and (B) they are not using the money to backfill current spending to free up money for other purposes.
They ask: “Why are you not calling them out for this gross mismanagement?”
Because I have not seen any gross mismanagement yet. If they put the tax measure on the ballot and they don’t have certain things in the initiative, then yes, that’s going to be a problem. But these complaints are at best premature.
They respond: “You haven’t even seen it and already promoting the taxes.”
Then again, the commenters haven’t even seen it and are already calling the city out for gross mismanagement over stuff that they largely are required by law to do.
Here’s the kicker: “Let them fail in June then the CC can spend the summer fixing the process and put on November.”
Are you kidding me? Fixing the process? A process that has not proven to be broken and now all of a sudden needs to be fixed. This is putting the cart before the horse and the reality is that all of this is just pretext to attempt to defeat the tax measure because they know full well that simply opposing a tax for parks and roads is going to look bad.
But here is the other problem that the potential opposition faces – it could be self-defeating to defeat the initiative in June.
The opposition doesn’t have nearly as much leverage as they would normally have here. First of all, the tax is supposed to fund unmet infrastructure needs for roads and parks. We’ve been deferring maintenance on this stuff for well over a decade and, while every year we delay funding this stuff the cost goes up in terms of the immediate budget, we can survive another two years.
We need to be spending more money on roads. We have been spending about four million dollars a year and it should be at least $8 million. Our parks funding is about one-quarter of what it should be. And then there are the unfunded liabilities the city will have to budget for at some point. But none of that really comes due in the next two years, it simply means we continue deferring maintenance and the costs down the line will escalate.
If the tax measure is defeated in June, they don’t come back in November with a new one. They come back in June 2020 with a tax requiring 50 percent plus one to pass. It will be much easier to pass. It will be much harder to defeat. And the worst part is, it will be a general tax, which means there will be no list and no way to hold the city to spend it as they say they will spend it.
Finally, it will increase pressure on the city to expand economic development as a way to fund basic infrastructure needs.
The most interesting part of the conversation was comments against the homeless tax: “And Robb’s 50 to fund bringing more non clean non sober addicts to our downtown ?? Crazy ‘Fund them, they will come’. A veritable field of dreams….”
These are progressives making disparaging remarks against the homeless? That’s certainly not where my value system lies.
So go ahead, defeat the tax. With a two-thirds requirement, any real organized opposition is likely to be successful but the when they come back in two years with a 50 percent tax and less accountability, don’t say you weren’t warned. Pennywise and pound foolish, as they say. Be careful what you wish for, I would add – you might get it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting