Commentary: A Different Look at Measure Y
August 22, 2012
A Different Look at Measure Y
By Marcus G. Tiggs
At the risk of being labeled as being anti-public safety or anti the Culver City Way of Life (CCWOL), I am compelled to offer my thoughts why I cannot support Measure Y in its present form.
Notwithstanding the good intentions of our elected officials, city manager, finance director and so on, I have trouble with being told if we don't agree to 0.50 sales tax increase, 1) we won't be as safe (police/fire cuts) and 2) our CCWOL will be lost. Keep in mind this was in the same breath of being told, it’s either more cuts or raise more revenue (the operative words being “either” “or”).
In the military, we use the acronym “BLUF” a lot (i.e. Bottom Line Up Front). My BLUF is: 1) retaining all of our Redevelopment Agency (“RDA”) staff at their RDA pay rates was not an austerity measure after RDA funding was lost, 2) reading between the lines, a false sense of security is in the air if we approve the sales tax increase, 3) should Measure Y pass, there is vagueness whether the council will ever make (the tough decisions) on more needed cuts to bring our budget back to sustainable health, and 4) a comprehensive campaign plan has to be devised and vetted that loads our tool kit with multiple cost cutting and revenue generating vehicles (rather than putting all our eggs in the sales tax basket and believing our CCWOL is all good now).
I am just an insolvency lawyer, not an accountant. However, I thought the immediate impact of lost RDA monies would be, 1) a reduction in the staffing of the 100% RDA fund supported employees, 2) a determination of what cross-departmental partially RDA funded staff were indispensable and 3) an honest discussion on what we are going to do to increase revenue and further reduce expenses. I was wrong in part, because what we got was word that 100% of the RDA employees (non-retiring/golden parachute types) were transferred to other comparable positions (code word, “same pay”). This was not very transparent before asking for a sales tax increase. Albeit not an austerity (or public safety savings) type move, but probably wise in principal with the caliber of RDA personnel we are fortunate to have.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, our real time deficit budgetary woes were predicted by some almost a decade before the loss of RDA funds. Unfortunately, elected officials tried but were unable or unwilling to make the real tough austerity measures (e.g. starting with layoffs of un-essential/redundant personnel, etc.). Congratulations on the work done to date in renegotiating collective bargaining agreements as well as saving current jobs. However, City Hall is giving us the impression they have done as much as can be done in the area of budget reductions, so we better accept the tax increase or else there goes the CCWOL---this is unacceptable to me. As a long time insolvency lawyer, when a corporate client comes in, usually with its financial director and says, “we’ve cut as much as we could”—typically, I find they haven’t and there is anywhere from 5% to 15% more cuts that can be made and still maintain a sustainable enterprise.
A quote from one of the Community Dialog Series presentations presented to council and the public is telling, “to solve the significant operating deficit problem, either significant further cuts to expenditures are required, or the community needs to consider raising revenues. Are we missing the point, we were running a deficit budget before the RDA elimination, so I say it’s both that are needed (more cuts and increased revenues)--not a false sense of security with the Measure Y Band-Aid, which City Hall has not/cannot give assurances will not fall off before the 10 year sunset.
I am not against a sales tax increase idea per se, but if Measure Y passes and it does not work, I can predict City Hall will have a hard sell on any other tax increase initiatives in the future to get our budget back in the black (or it may simply be too late). City Hall should reconsider whether Measure Y is really ready for prime-time, go back to the drawing board and look at a long term solution for closing the deficit gap. The intermediate objective would be more than regenerating spreadsheets, but a comprehensive campaign plan providing at least, 1) concrete goals as to percentage of further expenditure reductions, 2) not just looking at a sales tax increase, but also new tax streams, such as sugary tax (El Monte & Richmond---November ballot measure), 3) leveraging the expertise of the Culver City Chamber for suggestions on other inadequately tapped revenue streams, and 4) continued community involvement for further ideas and refinement. From there, take it to the voters for what you really want (maybe it has to be a combination of actions/initiatives) and why we should vote for it. Now you would have my vote.
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Marcus G. Tiggs is actively involved in the community and a 20 year Culver City resident. He has served as a Culver City Planning Commissioner and is a Lawyer with the firm of Bayer Wishman & Leotta. Tiggs can be reached at: email@example.com