The case against Measure G
September 24, 2014
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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