Monday, October 12, 2009

Springfield Should have Limited Focus to Passing Pension Sales Tax in November

Attempt to stage November's ballot language to enable the city to influence a future sales tax repeal vote may threaten passage of pension sales tax next month

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," 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: ""



Jim Hornaday said...


We are in total agreement. You too have discovered the many faceted ambiguities of the current ballot proposal language.

Mr. Wichmer may have made a Freudian slip in his Sunday News-Leader opinion piece. He said "As the city attorney, I wrote the ballot language that will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. Anytime a ballot is drafted, it is critical that the language submitted to voters reflects the intent of the governing body and that it follows the applicable state statutes."

Well, I think it is at least interesting he indicated the ballot text had to 'reflect the intent of governing body'. It makes me sorta wonder if the 'governing body' isn't just the city manager.

Fred B. Ellison said...

The fact that the ballot language allows the tax to be "unrepealed" until the pension is 100% funded means that the City of Springfield will end up with a nice little nest egg of several hundred million dollars since the Tier I plan is closed (no employees are being added to the plan) and the Tier II employees and new hires are to be moved to LAGERS.

What was goning to happen to the 'leftover' funds was a question which was raised be Councilperson Rushefsky during a Council lunch many months ago. She was basically told not to be concerned that the City would just move it back to the General Fund when the total liabilities of the Pension Plan had been satisfied.

How opportunistic and convenient! A pork barrel fund for a future City Council!

Jackie Melton said...

Yes, that's true, Fred.

If anyone wants more information on that "what if" scenario. It was outlined here at JackeHammer. You can enter the title of the post: An Unexplored City "What-If-Scenario" into the search bar of this Web log and it will pull that entry up for you.

Anonymous said...

My gosh people, take a look around at your city. I moved here 15 years ago, and even with the best efforts of some good people in city gov. , this place looks like a bombed out Beirut in places. You low tax anti-gov. people are all the same. There are good people in government as well, not are all criminals. I don't work for the city, have no connection, but get sick of you backbench whiners with NO SOLUTIONS but with finger-pointing skills to burn. You got a few of your type on council now, just finish the job, get a few more elected and you can have SpringVegas all to yourselves. Just don't expect anybody else to come to this place when you are done.

tom said...

oh but anon 10:30, suggestions have been offered and ones which would work. It wasn't that long ago that us "low tax" people stood up before council with facts and figures on why C.U. should NOT receive a rate increase for electric and gas. Our evidence was dismissed as folly and C.U. got its rate increase. Now C.U. is having to rebate customers $$$$ because the current rate structure is higher then the cost of the commodity. Had us lowlife "low tax rate" people been paid attention to this would NOT be occurring right now as the rates would be at the same cost of proving the commodity. And ANON NOTHING prevents you from taking more money out of your pocket and giving it to the tax collector unless of course you want to see everyone share in the misery of high taxation all together. Of course we do want what is best for the city since my business as well as others depends on it, however the city has shown it has NOT the best interest of the people which is why were as a city are so far in debt.

Springfieldian said...

Yes, I saw the ballot language and went, Huh? It talks about sunsetting out, but when is that? A pension fund is an ongoing fund that continually needs monies. Even if the fund gets caught up, it could be behind again in the next week, depending on various factors. The language is problematic for sure.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight...cut taxes, let free enterprise run unabated and free from government interference, and assume all government is bad. Tom, Fred and the you think W is available to come to SpringVegas? Maybe Michael Brown could join him, because when you guys get done, it will look like post Katrina New Orleans around here and he could come to the rescue!

tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tom said...

ANON 5:52

Not once have you ever heard or seen myself or Mr. Ellison doing as you have suggested in your posting. The city has for lack of common sense placed us (the taxpayer) into a 900 million dollar hole not including the debt of the school system). Now you may find this type of exercise healthy but as any "good" business owner will tell you, that debt is going to saddle you in other areas at some point in time. That time is now with all the tax increases coming down to make this city solvent once more. The people are tired of being saddled with mistakes and poor decisions. The city has allowed HUGE amounts of tax deferments (what you would call a tax cut)at the cost of infrastructure. The city has basic requirements which are "the safety of those living in and visiting the city" "infrastructure to support the basis for the tax revenue being generated by business" and "to provide such services as outlined in the city charter"
I guess I shouldn't be amazed at how many people assume this city is great because of the government, however you take all the revenue generating entities out of this town and no amount of government will keep this ship afloat. Instead of passing MORE taxation onto those who can least afford it (that would be the middle to upper middle class)lets reallocate existing taxes via the ballot box (YES ANON this can be done)in the short term to fund the various problems that exist in SpringVegas. As for the pension problem getting it 100% does NOT make the problem go away an those who think it does they need to pull their collective heads out of the sand or where ever it may be at.
Perhaps ANON instead of trying to make points on your own assumptions you should actually post something based on FACTUAL information. Remember it was Mr. Ellison and myself who said C.U. doesn't need a rate increase because the cost for those commodities were going to continue to keep falling, we even had the proof of this statistical data at our fingertips. Oh yeah by the way C.U. is issueing rate rebates because of overcharging WHY ? because electric and gas rates are at all time lows. We have been proven right more times then we have been proven wrong, because our businesses rely on this city staying profitable and maintaining the infrastructure.

tom said...


After reading the ballot language on the first one and knowing full well the 1% tax would NOT solve the problem you voted YES for it anyhow ?

Chestnut Expressway said...

Could the "October Surprise" for the November tax election,
be that Tom Finnie will leave CU, the Council will put a saddle on him and ride him out of town ??

Jackie Melton said...


Regarding the 1 percent sales tax, I wrote all about that months ago. It's a complicated issue (just as the 3/4-cent is today).

If you are interested in why I voted for the 1 percent tax at the time, some of the reasons are in the archives here at JackeHammer. I'm not interested in rewriting it all in the comment section here.

I was more involved and kept up with the pension sales tax issue at that time than I am today, on the 3/4-cent tax (if you will remember, at least during a portion of the lead up to the 1 percent vote, I was reporting on it for CFP). My vote was based on many factors, some may or may not be identified in the archives here.

The way you phrased your question would not allow me to provide you with a simple yes or no answer, and the issue today is the 3/4-cent sales tax, not the 1 percent sales tax that failed months ago.

tom said...


I was just giving you a hard time as I remember you voted for the 1% and your reasoning why. I seem to remember you debated yourself at first on a regular basis whether you were going to support it or not.

Jackie Melton said...

That's true, Tom. It wasn't a decision I made lightly.

I was prepared to support the 3/4-cent sales tax too, if the ballot language had not made me feel I was pledging to the city that I would continue to support the tax until it is 100 percent funded.

I cannot say how I will vote in five years or ten years. I want to know that I can make as deliberate a decision then as I make on November 3.

I feel the ballot language for the 3/4-cent requires my continued support instead of allowing for a separate decision. I just can't commit myself to what I will do five or ten years from now.

Anonymous said...

Debt of the school system!! You mean the fact that Springfield is now trying to finally invest in the schools they neglected for decades when the no-taxers intimidated individuals that should have been advocating for improvements to the buildings all along. That lack of leadership, along with the Hancock Amendment, has created a situation resulting in all the area schools, except SPS, having improved their facilities. If you are a long-time Springfield native, shame on you for letting your schools fall behind on investment. My child goes to school here and I have fought hard to help pass bonds and levies so that she could at least go to a school that has some basic improvements in technology and facilities. Hopefully the improvements they have made in teacher salaries, class size and improved classrooms will help her compete in this intensely global environment. I am very pleased with this community's recent investment in its schools. Yes, it is like a mortgage, it must be paid off, but much like a mortgage, it is necessary to meet the needs of the students. I have followed SPS closely, and they have managed their money well. Your attitude scares, me. Reminder Tom, unless you are the rare exception, perhaps born with a silver spoon in your mouth, some taxpayer somewhere put their hard-earned cash and taxes on the line for your education. Don't pull the ladder up now just because you have yours now. That is not very American or patriotic.

tom said...

I'm a little confused as home schooled students score above average compared to government educated kids and I doubt if $7,000 per year per student is being spent on their education. Hopefully SGS will have the 47 MILLION for the bond that comes due next year.
As for being patriotic I put my butt on the line to serve this nation in the military don't question my patriotism nor my love of country.

Anonymous said...

So did my father and grandfathers, some losing lives and limbs, but those that came home, worked hard and paid their taxes to build highways, parks, and schools for the betterment of society. I have a room with pictures of everyone of my male relatives that served and honor their memory. Though I did not serve, I try to honor their service by being a good citizen and leaving this place a little better for my child. Does that me giving some of my hard-earned money to build a brighter future....yes....proud of it. I refuse to be bitter and pull the ladder up on the future. I hope I will not ever be that selfish. Good luck to your new Springfield Tom, you will need it my friend.

R.L. Scott said...
City governance’s perspective:
According to the city; most profits of the sale of properties by law would be directed back to original funding source. For instance if money from a storm water project was used to acquire the site, the funding for that storm water would need to be replenished.

Honea said the sale of the properties probably would not greatly infuse the pension fund.
Which is mostly true!

Taxpayer’s perspective:
If the city were to appropriate the revenue generated from the property sales to reduce the $19,288,593 debt service expended from the general revenue funds; it could “greatly “ infuse the city’s flawed self-funded pension plan deficit and allow numerous existing tax’s to be reduced. Thereby allowing existing revenues to be reallocated for the proposed Public Safety Tax. pg.35,50-51

Which leads taxpayer’s to ask:
What funding source was used to acquire each property?

If the revenue from sale of property were at councils discretion appropriated to reduce or eliminate the bond debt associated with the funding source how much would be freed up from the general revenue that could & should be appropriated directly to the city’s flawed self-funded pension plan deficit.

If city governance were to reduce the debt service and limit infrastructure to only core city needs & maintenance for 5 years
(Time frame for 1st increment of undetermined proposed Public Safety Tax) wouldn’t it allow generated revenue from existing tax’s to sunset & be voter approved at a reduced revenue level ; thereby allowing existing generated revenue to be reallocated for the proposed Public Safety Tax?( provided ballot language properly worded)

Has City Council,City Management,and the Task Force really considered any and all options for cutting, capping, or limiting the growth of expenses before considering revenue increases to fund the pension plan?

Does the City really need more Money from Taxpayer's? This appears to be an institutional “budgetary problem” being presented as a taxpayer “funding problem” Which is one of many reason’s my vote Nov.3, will unreservedly be NO.

Jeremy D. Young said...

Respectfully, the following is no badge of honor: "I have fought hard to help pass bonds and levies so that she could at least go to a school". The translation is this:
"I have fought hard to tell the Springfield Police department to use force to remove money from all citizens' pocket books to achieve the ends I believe in".

What if I believe in the schools being mandated to be muslim? Would it be honorable to fight to make the government take money from all citizens to pay for that? Would it be better if they were all Catholic schools? How about atheist schools? How many guesses before I offend everyone?

I have two main points that I'd like to make clear:

1) Education is not neutral. There is an inherent world view that forms the foundation for all educational systems.

2) Taxes are not generosity. Fighting to pass new laws that force everyone to contribute to a program, whether they agree with it or not, is not honorable.

I pay property tax AND I pay to send my daughters to private school. I think it is a fundamental right that parents should be able to send their children to a school that shares their values. The public schools cannot accomplish that. I also believe that it is through charity, not guns*, that the poor should be assisted.

*-Taxes are collected with guns, just see what happens when you stop paying.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, I did mean to say what you said about police and guns. Thanks for making that clear for the readers. No extremist hyperbole, just straight talk...I like it. Now if we could just work that birth certificate thing in......