SLO’s Measure G deserves a yes
September 11, 2014
OPINION By CLINT PEARCE, ANDREA PEASE and PIERRE RADEMAKER
As the co-chairs of SLO Citizens for Measure G, we firmly believe that Measure G will benefit all San Luis Obispo residents and therefore deserves the community’s support.
As a reminder, Measure G seeks to renew a half-percent sales tax that SLO voters overwhelmingly approved eight years ago as Measure Y.
We believe Measure G is necessary to fund the kind of improvements we want to see in the future, such as preserving open space, keeping our parks clean, maintaining our streets and sidewalks, reducing traffic congestion, and promoting safer, quieter neighborhoods.
SLO Citizens for Measure G represents a diverse group of community activists, environmentalists, agriculturists, small-business owners, nonprofit representatives, former elected leaders and others who share our belief that our city needs the continued investment in city services that this half-cent sales provides.
Here are several other reasons we support Measure G:
G is a renewal; it’s not a tax increase: As noted above, Measure G would continue the revenue that voters overwhelmingly approved of eight years ago as Measure Y. Yes on G means the city can continue to improve essential services.
G benefits all residents: This tax provides millions of dollars a year to fund street repairs, flood prevention, open-space preservation, bike paths, downtown safety and many other items that improve the quality of life for all residents.
G is affordable: This half-percent tax equals about $1 a week for the typical SLO resident, yet it generates $6.5 million in revenue to the City of SLO. And all of it stays here to be invested in city services. It’s also a significant portion of the city’s general operating budget, about 12%.
G is fair: Nonresidents and tourists – who are large users of virtually all city services – pay nearly 75% of the tax while residents pay a little over 25%. That indeed is a fair deal for residents.
Opponents of Measure G allege that the city is sitting on a secret pile of cash reserves and doesn’t need Measure G. That’s simply wrong on two counts:
First, there’s nothing secret about the city’s cash and investments. The city regularly reports on its investment portfolio, and this information is publicly available and posted on the city’s web site.
Second, while the city does have approximately $87.4 million in pooled investments from all city funds, about $75.4 million of that is set aside for specific projects, such as improving the Los Osos Valley Road interchange, regular maintenance and upgrades of the city’s sewer and water system, and for special capital improvements such as parking garages. In short, monies for restricted purposes like water, sewer and parking cannot be used for General Fund operations or capital improvements.
The remaining $12 million of these pooled investments is the city’s general fund reserve – that is, the city’s rainy-day fund, to be used for emergencies, as in the event of an earthquake or sudden recession.
Opponents have further suggested that the City Council is putting too much money into its contingency fund. In fact, the city should be congratulated for having a solid rainy-day fund. At $12 million, the reserve fund now equals 20 percent of the general fund, the minimum prescribed by city policy.
However, that one-time reserve would be wiped out quickly if Measure G were to fail because the city would instantly lose more than $6.5 million annually. It would take the equivalent of opening 10 new Costcos to replace that revenue. That kind of development just isn’t going to happen and would be inappropriate in any scenario.
We know that some people are skeptical about whether the tax money has been spent as promised. Many of us who support Measure G have shared that concern. But we have reviewed the city’s spending records in detail, and it’s clear that the money has been spent appropriately – and as promised when it went before voters for approval in 2006.
We also know that some opponents of Measure G are concerned that future tax revenue will be used to pay pension costs. Every California city is dealing with pension costs. San Luis Obispo is no different. To its credit, the city has recently implemented pension reforms, and the council has committed to developing a longer-term plan to address the costs of commitments made long ago. Additionally, city employees have agreed to significant concessions in wages and benefits that are saving the city more than $3 million annually.
Realizing that doubts persist, the city council has opted to hold itself to an even higher level of accountability to ensure that these funds are spent properly and clearly tracked. The council has publicly agreed to three critical components:
1. Developing a philosophy of fiscal responsibility that calls for an appropriate balance between personnel costs and capital improvement projects.
2. Appointment of a citizens’ oversight committee to review Measure G expenditures and make sure the city addresses its financial issues in a straightforward, transparent manner.
3. A scorecard that publicly tracks and measures city spending.
The half-percent sales tax has enabled the city to make a substantial progress on improving essential services these past eight years, but much more work is still ahead to achieve the goals of our community. That’s why Measure G is necessary. At $1 a week for the typical SLO resident, it’s a terrific investment, returning millions of dollars in improvements and services for all residents.
Please join us in supporting Measure G. Keep SLO great; vote yes on Measure G.
Clint Pearce is President of Madonna Enterprises and past chair of the SLO City Tourism Business Improvement District.
Andrea (Andy) Pease is an architect and principal of In Balance Green Consulting, and a founding member of SLO Green Build.
Pierre Rademaker, owner of Rademaker Design, is a past president of the SLO Downtown Association
For more information about Measure G and about SLO Citizens for Measure G, click here.