Editor’s Note: This column first appeared on July, 1, 2003
Is the sky falling down?
To listen to some folks, Manteca has been on the verge of collapse for the past 20 plus years.
You know the war cry: Budget busters! Spending liberals! Too big of pay raises for police officers, firefighters, and other city workers! Bloated staffs! Corporate welfare!
The Greek chorus marches on. Same tune but they adjust the lyrics (and the targets) to the issue du jour.
First, let’s look at the accused tax and spend liberals — City Manager Bob Adams, Mayor Willie Weatherford and council members Jack Snyder, Vince Hernandez, Steve DeBrum and John Harris.
Their lifestyles and personal financial habits ooze conservatism. They either all work or have worked for a living. No one handed them a dime. They are buying or have bought homes and raised families the way most of us do through installment debt. They are not immune from rising costs or worried about retirement funds.
To mistake concern about the poor and the need for city to do what it can within a certain framework for being a liberal spender, then Weatherford stands accused. But since he isn’t a Ted Kennedy liberal by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to spending on the poor, does that mean no one can be conservative and give a rat’s behind about people who are poor not because of circumstances that are beyond their control? Some of those poor people Weatherford talks about worked all of their lives, had perhaps a major medical expense or were forced to raise a second family — their grandchildren — and blew their nest eggs. Perhaps we should just toss them into the alley and forget about building subsidized housing for low-income seniors?
Manteca is hardly teetering on the financial edge. The $94 million budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 is based on underestimate income and overestimating expenses. It includes no growth in sales tax and some other no-growth calculations even though various revenue sectors are growing. Adams simply took extra caution not knowing what bizarre thing Gov. Gray Davis and the legislature will do to get out of the $38 billion deficit. One must be conservative and cautious especially since the first folks up in Sacramento are talking about laying off aren’t paper pushers but CHP officers, correctional officers and rural firefighters.
Corporate welfare charges are especially interesting if you are a student of California government. Long before Proposition 13, city general funds often paid for sewer and water lines as well as street extensions to accommodate growth. That changed over the years. Redevelopment funding of public infrastructure used to handle growth is the same thing with a catch: The investment in tax dollars is only in enticing development — commercial and industrial — that has a positive impact on municipal coffers and the local economy.
The taxing charge is especially ludicrous. The voters adopted state laws that prevent general taxes from being adopted by local government unless they are supported by a vote of the people. General property tax can’t be raised without the concurrence of a majority of the property owners.
In the past 14 years, the only thing any council has done with taxes is to repeal one — the $2.65 general tax placed on municipal utility bills. That’s right. No tax increases, just a tax cut. And guess who were among the council members to vote for the tax cut and who are still on the council: Weatherford and Harris, two of the so-called “tax and spend liberals.”
Yes, you can expect increases in sewer, water and garbage rates. State law allows that to occur by the council on a four-fifths vote providing it is justified. They are enterprise funds and can be self-supporting but they cannot subsidize other government expenses. By not making those operations pay their way by charging users the actual cost, the general fund is tapped which, in turn, reduces money for other services such as police, fire and parks.
And when government acts more like a business such as in the case of Big League Dreams as the Greek chorus often demands they get clobbered. The BLD deal for the sports complex essentially is a private sector contractor running a city service but the bottom line once all things are factored in comes to a $15 million savings overall after 30 years. That estimate is on the conservative side.
The big advantage is cost avoidance in maintenance and operation.
Tax and spend liberals? Spendaholics? That certainly doesn’t describe any council in Manteca for the past 20 plus years.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.