Springfield, MO - There has been repeated reference made by City attorney Dan Wichmer that state statute restricts and limits what the city may, or may not, include in the ballot language of a sales-tax initiative to fund the police and fire pension plan. What is interesting are the deviations from the ballot form RsMo 94.579 has indicated the city must "for the most part" follow. Why oh, why, do they chose the deviations they choose? (Well, keep reading.)
RsMO 94.579 states:
The ballot of submission for the tax authorized in this section shall be in substantially the following form:
Shall ...... (insert the name of the city) impose a sales tax at a rate of ...... (up to one) percent, solely for the purpose of providing revenues for the operation of public safety departments of the city?
Other than a yes box, a no box, and some voter instruction, that's it...the end.
Had the City of Springfield, and its City Council, which approved the City of Springfield's official ballot language on August 24, stopped with the first part of the paragraph, which reads:
“Shall the City of Springfield impose a sales tax at a rate of three-quarter of one percent (3/4-cent) solely for the purpose of providing revenues for the Springfield Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Pension System,"
...my yes vote would have been secure but, they didn't stop there, instead, they added:
"with said tax to sunset upon the Pension System fund reaching a fully-funded (100%) status as determined by an independent actuarial study conducted for the Pension System Board of Trustees?”
With that, and a heavy heart, my no vote was secured, instead. A heavy heart because I do recognize the importance of the tax being passed, it is the reason I voted in support of the failed February pension sales tax of 1 percent.
The ballot language has been troublesome for many citizens, and personally, I think if public confusion rises to the level the City Manager feels it is necessary and appropriate to initiate passage of a City Council resolution clarifying the language, then there is an obvious and very real problem with it (see: Council Bill 2009-254, purpose and explanation).
The reason the second half of the ballot is troublesome to me rests in its potential to make me a liar in 2014, should I wish to make the decision to repeal the tax.
By voting yes on "question 1," I would not only be approving the 3/4-cent sales tax to fund the pension plan but, in my view, I would, in essence, be endorsing funding the pension plan to a 100 percent funded ratio before I would vote to repeal the tax.
Since I do not believe that full funding is either necessary to reach the city's goal, and question whether it is the best funded ratio by which the city could reach their goals, I am uncomfortable with endorsing a 100 percent funding of the plan.
A couple of things stop me from committing to endorsing paying the sales tax until the pension plan is funded at 100 percent.
1. The city is under no threat of the state withholding sales tax revenue to fund the pension plan, so long as the pension plan is funded at a 60 percent or higher ratio.
2. Milliman actuaries recommended the funded ratio which would best reach the city's long term goals as 90 percent, when they performed a study prior to the failed February vote.
"Under both 6 percent and 7.5 percent [investment return] scenarios, funding to the 100 percent target appears to overshoot the desired results long term," the Milliman actuaries advised. "The 90 percent target scenarios seem to better match the desired long term outcomes." - Nov. 19, 2008 issue, "Community Free Press," page 2)
I also resent what I perceive as an effort, on the city's part, to set up language today which will more than likely be used to coerce or guilt the public into approving it again, five years from now.
If I can be even clearer: I planned to vote in support of a 3/4-cent sales tax to fund the police/fire pension plan but, because, instead of placing a straight-forward and focused question before me, the city wrote language with an eye toward influencing my vote in five years, I will be unable to vote in support of the over-all question. I hope they have not ensured this sales tax initiative's failure.
They lost my affirmative vote by over-reaching what should have been the clear-cut objective of simply passing THIS sales tax initiative on THIS day (November 3).
It truly was a yes vote that was the City's to lose.
Disclaimer: I have not written this post to try to influence the vote of any other Springfield resident. I simply cannot, in good conscience, support the ballot language of "question 1," as it was crafted.
Related: "Law sought to give Springfield voters voice in funding choice" - Source: "News-Leader.com"