Wednesday, February 04, 2009

9 Council Members Still Haven't "Sung"

Though I voted in support of the police and fire pension sales tax, to say I am disappointed it did not pass would be disingenuous. I really was conflicted and for many reasons.

While one blogger was sitting in a room full of Council members and City officials, another was riding out the night at a chicken wing bar with, at least, a couple of the Council primary candidates who didn't support the sales tax. My guess would be, the atmosphere was quite different from one gathering to the other.

Mr. Burris stated something to the effect that the budget cuts he outlined in his worse case scenario would be made. I've yet to hear the Council weigh in on whether they will follow through with Burris' recommended worst case scenario budget cuts but, what is certain is, the over $13 million contribution Burris insists will be made in fiscal 2009-10, will no more effect the daily losses in investment returns in the pension fund than the $12.5 million the City contributed in fiscal 2008-09. So, the question remains, if the City plans to bring the tax initiative to the voters again and again until enough of Springfield's citizens vote in favor of it to get it passed, what is the real point of continuing a hiring freeze in the police and fire departments and on the police and fire academies, cutting street maintenance and repairs, and cutting city/county health department and parks department funding, when such cuts will do little to shore up the pension and keep it from bleeding out?

Such actions, I predict, will be viewed by the citizens of this City as just an, "I told you so," effort to penalize the public for not supporting the sales tax. It will not cure the problem and won't even do much of anything to help the pension system's funded ratio.

There is a difference in educating the public and trying to scare them into compliance, and it is not necessary to punish the public for not toeing the line the government has drawn. Honesty would be a good starting place and real education, rather than partial education and scare tactics because, why? Because real education would take more time and be more trouble to provide?

Clearly, the public sees beyond the scare tactics. They understand cuts don't have to be made to make the full contribution in the next fiscal year, and they understand making those cuts to core services, such as the police and fire departments, isn't the answer and won't even really buy the pension fund any time.

What would happen if the City owned up? Healing? Forgiveness? A chance at trust in the future? Who knows? It would be nice to find out.

I warned some time ago, as I was heading out the door to Burris' worst case budget scenario presentation:

"It is a complicated issue, the new city manager has done a good job of trying to articulate it so the public understands the issue. As long as he continues to do that he also continues to build credibility. If he fails to tell the whole story or tells it selectively? He runs the chance of damaging the credibility he has built."

Continuing to suggest the City must make the full actuarial contribution in fiscal 2009-10, since the sales tax has failed, when the public is fully aware that the City is not required by state law to make that full actuarial contribution, and when the public has an understanding it will do little to stop the loss in the pension fund but will, as Burris himself, offered, "set the City back 10-20 years," is not only selectively telling a story, it is falsely telling a story, and it certainly does damage and has damaged the credibility Burris had built early on.

That falsehood has been the foundation of much of the City's argument in favor of the sales tax and is a key factor in the public's characterization that he and City officials are using "scare tactics." If the drastic cuts he has recommended to the City Council are carried through, I don't see how the public can view it as anything short of punishment to prove an unnecessary and unwise point and in the long run, I have to consider true education, rather than what some City officials (or the Chamber of Commerce?) might have thought was expedient promotion, would have been the best tactic of all.

Based on Burris quotes, posted by another blogger, Burris seems to have forgetten his place, or perhaps he simply doesn't know it:

The tentative and/or final budgets for fiscal 2009-10 have not even been presented to the Council, as yet. The City Council has some sway and input over what budget recommendations are accepted and may modify particular areas of the budget, if they choose.Under the City Charter, next year's fiscal budget begins on the first day of July. Section 5.8 of the City Charter indicates the city manager has to submit a final budget with an explanatory message sixty days before the beginning of the new fiscal budget year. That would mean Burris must present his final budget no later than June 1. The budget is to, "provide a complete financial plan for the budget year. (It should be noted: Burris is not required to wait until June 1 to submit a final budget.)

Section 5.11:

"After the conclusion of such public hearing or hearings, (see City Charter Section 5.10, find it in my "links") the council may insert new items or may increase or decrease the various items of the budget, except for specified fixed expenditures. If it shall increase the total proposed expenditures, the council shall also increase the total anticipated revenue to at least equal such total proposed expenditures. The budget shall be adopted by the favorable vote of not less than a majority of the entire council, not later than the last Monday of the month preceding the first month of the budget year for which the budget is intended. Should the council take no final action on or prior to that date, the budget as submitted shall be effective without council action."

It still ain't gonna be over till 9 Council members sing. I'd suggest our City Council get another early start on budget discussions this year. Last year they started in March and they took extra public input, even genuinely considering it. It was a wise decision then, I think it would be a wise decision now.

The natives appear to be restless.


Related: busplunge: Why Did The Sales Tax Fail?
City Manager Greg Burris on the Results of the Police/Fire Pension Election « Life Of Jason



Christopher Logan said...

Nice site!! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

This is solid analysis and positive suggestions. The other consideration is that the new members of City Council will need to be included in the latter part of April and during May in the budget process.

The Libertarian Guy said...

And the wailing and teeth-gnashing begins anew...

Anonymous said...

Did the MSU students have a vote on this tax issue? If so, how many voted on Campus??

I thought the "Vote Yes cake" shown on TV at the police station watch party was rather cute.

I look for the present council to get the issue on the ballot again before the next council takes over.

Gentle Reader said...

While I don't always agree with the Jackehammer, the analysis provided, the historical context and unbiased insight this blog gives on local issues is without par in the blogosphere.

Anon 6:59 said it best: "This is solid analysis and positive suggestions."

As to your critics, Jackehammer, I say it is up to the city to come up with alternatives. They appear to never have gotten past the sales tax idea.

Anonymous said...

The tax issue failed by 881 votes.

Each of those votes saved the taxpayers about $227,000.

tom said...

Anon 6:26 if you subtract the votes of those in employ of the city and the various government branches here in town tied to government I would bet the loss would be even more resounding then