The case against Measure G

September 24, 2014
T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee

OPINION By T. KEITH GURNEE and DODIE WILLIAMS

The City of San Luis Obispo and the supporters of Measure G are pulling out all the stops to convince city voters to approve a ½ percent sales tax increase on Nov. 4. Bolstered by their slogan to “Keep SLO Great,” they have put together a slick Website using photos of community amenities that were completed long before Measure Y, the first eight year sales tax increase that was approved in 2006, while at the same time praising the virtues of Measure G.

With the city backing away from its promise that the Measure Y tax would end in 2015, Measure G would reenact that tax for yet another eight years.

Measure G’s supporters claim that Measure Y resulted in millions of dollars of capital improvements to improve the community that could not have happened without it. They have said that (1) it’s not a new tax increase, (2)that it will be paid mostly by nonresidents, and (3)that essential services would be lost if it doesn’t pass. Finally, they proclaim that Measure G will be nothing less than the salvation of our city.

All that would all be “great”… if it was true. The real facts prove otherwise.

The Measure G election is about public trust; trust in our elected officials to do what they said they would do with Measure Y funds and trust in our city government to manage our tax dollars wisely.

After extensive research into events both before and after the approval of Measure Y, our No on Measure G group has concluded that the city has breached that public trust. Since 2006, the city has left little more than a legacy of broken promises and questionable fiscal management practices with respect to Measure Y. Quite frankly, the city in the supporters of Measure G have been pulling the wool over our eyes.

Outlined below are a series of facts that prove this: facts that can be documented from city records and correspondence in the public record. The question before the voters is, should we reward this type of behavior with more of our hard-earned tax dollars? Or should we reject Measure G and require the city to live within its means like the rest of us have to do. We think the latter course is the wisest one and this is why:

Over the past 15 years, the city has historically spent $4-4.5 million per year on capital improvements to improve the community and there has been no appreciable increase in capital improvements spending since Measure Y was approved 8 years ago.

Prior to Measure Y, the city was spending that $4-4.5 million on “hard” capital improvements– those facilities and infrastructure needs like roads, utility lines, parks, fire stations, etc.–that were not being met. Yet today, the city now calls soft costs like studies, equipment replacement, and maintenance costs as “capital improvements” while reducing spending on the real capital improvements it promised us. Thus there has been a significant decrease in “hard” capital improvement spending since Measure Y was adopted.

Shortly after Measure Y was approved, Mayor David Romero wrote in a Viewpoint article in the Tribune stating that 72 percent of Measure Y revenues would be spent community improvements – 31 percent on creek and flood protection, 27 percent on neighborhood paving, 8 percent on traffic congestion relief, and 6 percent on open space preservation. Yet actual expenditures made since 2006 have been but a tiny fraction of those amounts.

In 2014, the city spent only 2 percent of its operational budget on traffic, 3 percent for open space preservation, and 4 percent for neighborhoods while spending 91 percent of its General Fund budget on general government costs like payrolls and pensions.

Gross city revenues before Measure Y were $43,164,400 and never dipped below this level since the “great recession” and gross city revenues for 2014 are expected to increase to $57,589,800, a 33 percent jump since 2006 not counting Measure Y funds. Including the additional expected $6+ million in revenues coming in from Measure Y, gross city revenues have increased by 50 percent, yet there has been no appreciable increase in capital improvements funding since Measure Y was approved.

The city just recently spent $75,000 on open space preservation– not in our city, but adjacent to a city that is miles away from San Luis Obispo.

In the year 2000, the city’s population was approximately 43,000 people, the city budget was $37 million, with full-time city employees earning a median annual salary of $56,000.

By contrast, today we have grown by only 1,800 residents since ( a 3.3 percent increase in population), but we now have a total operating budget of $136 million (a 367 percent increase (!)), with 150 city employees making at or over $100,000 a year.

Our city manager’s base salary is 27 percent more than that of the governor of the state of California and that of our city attorney is more than that of our state attorney general.

Prior to 2006, the city had $44.5 million in the bank as city reserves that has since increased to $93 million as of the most recent city investment committee held in Aug. 2014. Yet the city has invested it in accounts that hardly earn any return.

While Measure G supporters claim without actual evidence that others would pay most of the new tax, all city residents will be paying the tax to the tune of $1,500 per household and even more if they buy a car.

If Measure G fails, the sales tax rate for the City of San Luis Obispo would be the lowest sales tax rate of all incorporated cities in San Luis Obispo County, providing a competitive edge for our local businesses to attract additional customers and generate more economic activity to the benefit of both our local businesses and the city.

The City seems never to have planned for life after Measure Y when it expires in March 2015. Instead, the city has spent tens of thousands of dollars to fund three polls and public opinion surveys to determine how to convince voters to extend the tax increase for another eight years.

A majority of the SLO City Council is poised to get on the escalator to raise already high public employee salaries during forthcoming union negotiations. With all the money the city has in the bank, plus the additional $6-7 million that Measure G would bring in annually, the public employee unions must be licking their chops at the prospects for significant raises.

So ask yourselves, where did the Measure Y money go? And where will the Measure G money go if it approved by the voters on November 4?

All Measure Y did was provide the City of San Luis Obispo with an opportunity to execute a bait-and- switch play. It allowed the city to say, “Let’s just account for all capital improvements with Measure Y funds, throw studies and maintenance activities into our capital improvements program, and give ourselves more room in our general fund to provide for payrolls and pensions.” There is no doubt that Measure G will do the same.

So let’s get back to that slogan of Measure G supporters: “Keep SLO Great”? We must confess that looking at all their website’s beautiful photographs of Mission Plaza, the Jennifer Street Bridge, and the Bishops Peak open space preserve, certainly argues for our “greatness.” But all those projects were completed before Measure Y was passed at a time when this city actually was “great.” One must sadly conclude that since the approval of Measure Y and with the strategy that the city is pursuing to continue this source of revenue to which it has become addicted for another eight years, we’re seeing anything but “greatness.”

Measure G, just like Measure Y, is little more than fiscal sleight-of-hand, a misdirection tactic, smoke and mirrors, and a clever shell game crafted to fool voters into supporting something they should not.

There is a saying, “Fool us once shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.” If there are still some of you out there who want to be fooled, by all means support Measure G. But to those discerning voters who know better than to swallow Measure G’s false propaganda, please get out and vote.

Let’s not reward this city’s behavior with more of our hard-earned tax dollars. This is a measure that should be panned rather than praised. It’s time for this City to start living within its means like the rest of us have to do and for our City to start rebuilding the public trust it has lost since 2006. Don’t be fooled again. Just say “no” to Measure G.

Both T. Keith Gurnee and Dodie Williams served on the San Luis Obispo City Council, Gurnee in the 70s and Dodie in the 90s.

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28 Comments

  1. toryrand says:

    Let’s assume the right thing happens and measure G does not pass. You only have to look at Measure G’s supporters to know what will happen next. Measure G’s supporters are businesses and the Government. The Government will not cut costs to match new revenues. The Government will increase Business License Fees, Inspections, expand Parking Meters to the whole of SLO, institute and charge for residential parking passes, Police will ticket and arrest even more people, cal poly kids will be implanted with a chip and charged so the Police can track their whereabouts to more easily fine and ticket them. All of these actions the government will take to replace lost revenue, which of course is business unfriendly. Of course businesses will support the dumbing down and veiling of this revenue need through a “sales tax’ that gets spread over everyone.

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
    • mkaney says:

      Absolutely spot on.. They will also reduce services, rather than explore more efficient ways to do things, so that they can point their grubby little fingers at us and say “SEE it’s THEIR FAULT. THEY are greedy and our infrastructure is crumbling because of them.” They will starve the average citizen nearly to death if they need to to try and prove their point. They will find any way possible to prevent any alternative ways of doing things or any private parties from providing the services.

      (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. isoslo says:

    A fool and his money are soon parted. Liberals are fools to think that our government needs more money to do more good things. They want more money so they can exert more power over everything. We either choose to keep the power and be responsible for our own actions or turn the power over to the government and pray for the best. Sorry I forgot praying is no longer allowed in relation to government.

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  3. Come on. just follow the money trail in The City of SLO to really know who’s accountable to whom, and who call the day to day shots in “Happy Town”.

    Clearly IT’S NOT the local city council members any longer !

    (7) 7 Total Votes - 7 up - 0 down
    • isoslo says:

      You mean the local city council puppets don’t you?

      (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  4. Rich in MB says:

    I buy more and more from online retailers just to save the sales tax…looks like if measure G passes I will have yet another reason to vote with my pocket book after my vote at the polls failed.

    (9) 9 Total Votes - 9 up - 0 down
  5. falconbh says:

    Very well written opinion that clearly every citizen voter should read before they vote !

    For a vast majority, these New Tax Increases and Automatic Rate Increases , across the County are much more personal in nature.

    With so many still looking for work with a living wage, those working part time looking for full time work, individuals who have given up looking for work , who want a job and those living on a limited fixed income, this Vote on New Tax Increases becomes a vote about how many New Taxes and Rate Increases each person ‘Can Actually Afford’ !

    (20) 26 Total Votes - 23 up - 3 down
  6. r0y says:

    These comments are all fine and dandy, and I agree with most all of them; however, even with every level-headed CCN reader voting NO, this turd will still likely pass. SLO (and gov’t in general) has always depended on misinformation and ignorance. There are far too many people who, likely up to voting day should they vote, will not really know what Measure G is, and just recall what some tax-payer-funded pro-Measure G sign said (illegally parked in the public right-of-way, maybe).

    What we need to do is talk to people we know are “not political” – that is, people who are not here reading CCN (can’t imagine why not), the old folks who grew up “just trusting their government” and others who likely do not understand the complicated nature of propaganda and confiscation.

    I’ve not really heard, in all the stories and op-ed’s about measure G, anyone that is FOR the measure (apart from the carefully-selected people to vicariously represent the city). Even the typical SEUI “down-vote-drones” don’t seem to chime in. Yet, I still think SLO has enough ignorant, uninformed or at least apathetic voters to get this stuff passed.

    Why do I think this? SLO re-elects Jan Marx. SLO votes for people like Adam Hill, John Ashbaugh, et. Al. Our track record on putting decent people in office really does suck, why would our track record with crappy legislation or more tax increases be any different?

    (21) 25 Total Votes - 23 up - 2 down

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