Friday, August 13, 2010
I have been holding my consul lately concerning the fiscal problems of the City of Tucson government, while hoping to learn more about the situation. A few discussions, presentations and websites later I think I know enough about what is going on in order to logically comment upon it.
The presentation at El Rio by City Council members Romero, Fimbres and Ulich was illuminating in that four 'core services' are identified as being Police, Fire, Parks and Transportation. The Police and Fire and Parks departments were well represented by the respective department heads who took responsibility for informing the people concerning the tax increase to be voted upon in November. Nowhere did I see the head of Transportation, nor did I hear a word concerning their proposed share of this proposed tax increase. They should have been there to explain their part. I feel slighted by this omission.
I don't trust this proposal without estimates, percentages per department, prioritizing cuts and layoffs. Isn't there more to this proposition? We need expositions for the rest of this proposal. What about the reorganization of city hall? What about the proposed salary raises for council members? What else is tied up with this vote? Using scare tactics to get through a tax increase that would also include raises for council members? These items should have been four separate votes, not one huge vote with unrelated items in it.
Reorganizing city hall should be tied to a tax decrease, not an increase. Giving raises at a time when unemployment levels are high is unwarranted. Guaranteeing that one segment of the city is immune to layoffs and hikes in benefit costs is not fair to the rest of the city employees or the taxpayers since this tax hike would benefit Transportation employees in just that way. I heard that the city charter details transportation as a 'core service' but I suggest that parts of the transportation department would be better organized under different departments, thus reducing transportation to the actual core services, which would not be so difficult to fund. How about public safety and road repair administered under the police department? Are the SunTran employees under a management company so they can be exempt from the city worker agreement not to strike? Who set that up?
As for the scheduled cuts to be made in the event this tax increase does not pass, these are not the only configurations of cuts to be decided upon. I mean, there are other things besides police and fire to cut. I've seen the budget. One presenter at another meeting suggested retiring the 'double dippers', cutting high level salaries and benefits and reorganizing and cancelling departments. Absolutely, the level of public debt is too high! No more borrowing for anything.
Analyze this streetcar thing. How much money was borrowed to finance this? How much grant money was obtained? How much debt service will be paid on all borrowed funds? Does the interest cost of borrowing use up the grant money? Are we really making money on this thing, or are we just employing people in Oregon to build streetcars? What will the maintenance on this system cost? Are fares expected to pay for this deal? How realistic is this scheme? A few will be employed, but how long will it take for the rest of us to pay for this system? How many of us will use this system? I think deals like this and Rio Nuevo are impoverishing the community with debt service, reducing the value of our tax contribution.
Maybe this is off the topic of the proposed .5% tax increase, but voters are wary of giving more money into the hands of the city because of the recent track record. More tax to give to the moneylenders for debt service is simply unacceptable. If there were no debt, there would be no money crunch and projects could still continue to be built out of incoming receipts. A new way of thinking is needed.
The size and cost of government spending and projects must be reduced to fit the budget! You cannot depend on tax hikes, borrowing and selling real estate assets during a downturn.