I do not like paying taxes.
Anyone who says they do is a liar.
I do, however, like what taxes provide.
In the case of the City of Manteca it is rather basic.
If I dial 9-1-1 because a loved one is having a heart attack, firefighters respond.
Should a gunman open fire on a crowd and put innocent people at risk, taxes make sure law enforcement responds.
Taxes are the reason we have streets to begin with.
I am not naive. Government at times can be as pure as week-old snow on the ground in New York City. It can be as efficient as a sieve delivering water in the desert.
Government often redefines waste. The higher up it goes, the more out of touch it seems to get. What Sacramento spends money on at times is downright foolish by the standards of anyone who has to work to earn a dollar. But state spending seems grounded compared to the Twilight Zone where the federal government spends.
We quibble over pennies. Congress adopts spending bills with nine zeros after the first comma without blinking an eye and without really knowing what they are doing.
Measure Z on the Nov. 3 ballot is about what you see, what you don’t see, and what you might lose. If there are conspiracy theories out there that have legs, rest assured most of the damage was done long before 2018 — the last time we voted to elect a council.
Most of the theories are the result of two hideous tendencies we have as a society.
One is to avoid discussing let alone solving problems that we can address by making decisions that are hard to sell. Witness what happened in the early days of the Great Recession when then City Manager Steve Pinkerton opened all the books and placed all the cards on the table. His solution to avoid a looming budget collapse caused by economic forces way behind the city’s control was a tough pill to swallow. The Manteca Police Officers Association rather than take a pay cut in excess of 20 percent that included existing and contracted pay hikes as other municipal bargaining groups did instead opted to have 12 officers laid off.
History — as Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu points out — has a nasty habit of repeating itself. That’s because people ignore it. When half of Manteca and all of Lathrop in 1997 was petrified the emergency plugging of freeway underpasses at McKinley, Louise, and Lathrop Road with dirt might not hold should the rampaging San Joaquin River punch more holes in the levee and breach a cross levee we demanded flood control be the top priority. Six months later most people cared less.
What happened during the Great Recession not that long ago provides insight to what another penny in sales tax can do.
If voters in 2006 had not approved the Measure M half cent sales tax just as the economy started showing signs of going south, Manteca’s 67-officer police force at the start of 2009 would not have been whittled down to 55 officers. There would only have been 45. Given the City was still short six officers at the time based on one officer per 1,000 residents, having 45 officers on the streets would have been almost 40 percent below needed staffing. As for firefighters, one of the three fire stations in existence at the time would have been shuttered.
As an aside some of those who strenuously oppose Measure Z today were just as adamantly opposed to the public safety tax in 2006.
Cities were at the mercy of the state that used a bag of tricks at their disposal to avoid reducing the size of government in Sacramento to avoid the massive hole in their budget that was a third of the current $54 billion deficit the pandemic has created.
They used their authority of establishing the basic one cent sales tax for municipalities to delay the flow of revenue to local cities to pay for police, fire, parks, and such not once, not twice, but three times. Cities called it the “triple flip”. Some of the money was withheld for three months longer than intended. Some was six months. Other sales tax receipts took almost a year longer to make its way to local governments. Sacramento offered a shell game of sorts with other funds to look like they were softening the blow so they could keep, by comparison, spending levels relatively intact on the state level.
Measure Z — just like public safety tax passed in 2006 —generates money the courts have made it clear the state can’t touch.
Our other hideous tendency is to demand more but refuse to pay more.
Manteca in 2020 is a lot different than Manteca in 1991.
Twenty-nine years ago there were only two firefighters manning a fire engine. There was no Woodward Park, Tidewater Bikeway, or 40 other parks that needed for be maintained. There was no city traffic wearing down what was once a sleepy country road we call Airport Way. And there were no attractions such as Costco, the Stadium Retail Center, and Big League Dreams to lure traffic into an interchange that Caltrans put in place to serve a rural road.
There is a lot of stuff to maintain — and protect.
I have little doubt without Measure Z that the city will continue to function.
At the same time it is clear — especially with the $54 billion state budget hole and Sacramento’s well documented shenanigans — that Manteca is facing a challenge reminiscent of 2009 was not of the city’s making. Unless, that is, there is a conspiracy floating out there regarding a bunker lab beneath the golf course where consultants hired by the city were trying to produce a coronavirus.
I get why someone would want to vote against Measure Z.
But I also understand there are a lot of forces out there that the city can’t control.
Do we want to wait and see how bad it can get first? We could but the next time a tax election can legally be held is November of 2022. Then, if people who say no this time around don’t say no in two years, it won’t be until the end of 2023 until money starts flowing to the city.
We can wait until after we go through a repeat of 2009 or we can do something now.
The $12 million the city would be able to collect in the meantime could do a lot of things including leveraging road work, keeping service levels up, and making one time amenity investments in parks, streets, and such as Lathrop has done with their extra cent. And just like Lathrop will do, when the dark days arrive in earnest Manteca can drop the one-time quality of life expenditures and shore up the funding of basic service levels for police, fire, parks, and such.
The check and balance to make sure the sales tax receipts aren’t spent in a manner contrary to what Manteca needs is called an election that comes up every two years.
Sometimes you just have to make a judgment call and bite the bullet.
If this isn’t a situation as precarious — or more so — than 2009, then the city has $12 million more a year to address police staffing needs and taking a backlog of needed work from buckling sidewalks for deteriorating streets.
And if is a repeat, there will be a way to avoid Manteca paring back service levels that include preventative maintenance that haven’t fully recovered from the last cuts.
The odds are what will happen is a mixture of shoring up revenue to maintain and services and money being spent to tackle road work and such the city hasn’t been able to afford for years.