Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Chula Vista police are calling people at their homes, alarming voters with claims that they “won’t be able to protect” the city unless voters approve Proposition A to raise taxes again.
The fact is, Proposition A isn’t really about public safety. It is about years of deficit spending and poor decision-making at City Hall.
We admire police officers and fire fighters who put their lives on the line. They deserve fair pay and pensions. But unsustainable compensation hurts taxpayers and the cities that public safety officers live and work in. Pension costs skyrocketed from 2.5 percent of the general fund budget in 2001 to nearly 9 percent in 2007, reducing funding that would have otherwise been available to provide core city services. In the years ahead, the increased strain on services due to out-of-control pension costs will only worsen.
Chula Vista enjoyed at least six straight years of healthy revenue growth from 2000 through 2006 during the housing boom. During this period, politicians drew down on city reserves year after year, rather than set money aside for a rainy day. No fiscal restraint was demonstrated at that time, and since then, the Council has done absolutely nothing to address the 800-pound gorilla that weighs down on the budget: pensions.
The public is being told that there are only two choices: support this tax increase or face further service cuts.
This is despite the fact that Chula Vistans are already paying for a new $50 million City Hall stuffed with more than $1.3 million in luxury office suites for the politicians who built it.
Let’s get away from the scare campaign and look at some facts about Chula Vista government and why voters should say “no” to Proposition A.
- Prop A is a smokescreen. The Prop A tax increase pretends to be mostly for fire and police protection but nothing in Proposition A is earmarked for public safety. All Prop A money goes into the city General Fund which politicians can spend however they want.
- Most of the Prop A tax money will likely go to salaries, pension payments and debt interest. Personnel costs are now an astonishing 80 percent of city expenses, with $25 million per year for pensions alone.
- If voters don’t reject Prop A now, where will it end? Chula Vista spending and debt has doubled in the past decade. The city now owes $269 million — nearly $4,000 per family. While taxpayers lose their own jobs and benefits, Chula Vista government is on auto-pilot — raising salaries and pensions for government workers while America’s economy melts down. Meanwhile, almost no pay cuts or benefit reductions have been made by city politicians. It is unfair for taxpayers alone to bear the pain of Prop A.
- Proposition A creates the highest sales tax rate in San Diego County (tied with El Cajon); it has the potential of hurting local businesses at the worst possible time. Higher Chula Vista sales taxes may drive consumers to the internet or cities with lower sales taxes. Why buy a refrigerator or television in Chula Vista if shopping in San Diego saves a consumer $50 in taxes?
Chula Vista politicians have spent over $250,000 in tax dollars to pay for this election. It is astounding to see them use tax money in a cash-strapped city trying to convince voters to raise their taxes even more.
The Chula Vista politicians who put Prop A on the ballot seem blind to economic reality and deaf to the voice of the people.
Prop A is deceptive and it rewards ineffective leadership in exchange for the highest taxes in the county. We urge Chula Vistans to hold their elected officials accountable and demand real reform by sending saying “No” to Proposition A — a clear signal that enough is enough.
Lani Lutar is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes accountable, cost-effective and efficient government. You can e-mail her feedback at:email@example.com.