OP-ED: Musings on Measure A extension

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Much has been made of the case in favor of Measure A sales tax extension. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were committed to the “Yes on Measure A Campaign” by the mayor and police and fire unions. Glossy mailers land on the doorstep of every voter two or three times per week.

Only $400 was originally spent to buy a few “No on Measure A” signs, but the City clerk notified me that several complaints had been lodged that we had not followed FPPC rules showing the campaign funding the signs. The FPPC threshold for filing a campaign is $1,000 and therefore not required in this case. It seems those in favor of Measure A object to any opposition at all.

I signed up to be one of the writers for the ballot argument against Measure A extension, before actually deciding how I would vote. For any tax or large expenditure, the Pros and Cons need to be researched and evaluated. I spent several weeks plowing through the information and data on this tax and came to a conclusion: the public has been duped. The campaign promises on how the money would be spent did not make it into the ordinance. The money went into the General Fund and lost its identity when commingled with revenues from a plethora of other sources. Measure A expenditures cannot be tracked since they were not kept in a separate account. That allows for the bait and switch.

Money in the General Fund can be spent on anything approved by City Council.

I would surmise this was a carefully crafted two-part campaign. First, get the voters to agree to a temporary tax, by dangling bright shiny objects in front of them–– promises of additional police and fire resources, street repairs, parks, libraries, a community hospital etc., and when they are accustomed to paying the higher tax, make the case for saddling them with a permanent tax. With $60 million a year to spend, it isn’t hard to come up with a few photos of projects appealing to the public.

In my conversations with residents, they are most interested in police numbers (beat cops available to respond to calls) and street repairs. I chose those two topics for examination.

The city would argue another set of numbers on police new-hires than those I reported, but on examining the data provided to me, I discovered that contract police had been included.

Contract police (airport, [A]-line, port) having nothing to do with Measure A, and so I subtracted
them from the new-hire numbers. Officers that were re-assigned to other duties also do not
count as new-hires. My numbers matched exactly those given in an LB Report article and so I feel confident they are correct. In looking at job titles, it appears that only four of the 22 new-hires have been assigned to beat-cop duties. With an average yearly intake of $20 million in Measure A funds going to police in the last 3 years, 100 officers could have/ should have been hired. Instead, they spent money on “Safety Maintenance” which turned out to be wages and compensation for existing (not new hire) officers. Subsequently, they changed their marketing message to “Measure A saved 81 officers.”

Street repairs were promised but only minimally funded. With no information on how much was spent previous to Measure A revenue being collected, there is really no way to tell if the public benefited [from] having Measure A funds.

I have to wonder if the Citizens Oversight Committee–– Transactions and Use Tax (TUT) committee–– have any accounting professionals on that team. The questionable data on the TUT spreadsheet seems to be readily accepted. No one is asking the hard questions.