YOLO SUN OPINION :
With an ill-conceived focus on preserving its: “Credibility,” in the words of Mayor Skip Davies — as well as injuriously misallocating municipal resources — the Woodland City Council is imprudently squandering both.
The City Council employs a peculiarly flawed practice of perceiving public interest and priorities relevant to ongoing budget turmoil, describable as knee-jerk allegiance to a simple-minded, politically clumsy and fiscally disastrous civic delusion, that: ~ 70% of Measure E revenue ($30.2 million, precisely) must necessarily be allocated to road improvements.
City Council members seem to believe that grossly misleading the public is somehow in its best interest; although: honesty, competence and transparency always are the genuine imperatives for generating political credibility.
Council Member Martie Dote responded to an important public question regarding Measure E money at the City Council budget hearing on March 30, by describing that such revenue was — only available — for the City’s program of capital improvements, and — not accessible — to help resolve the currently projected $5.7 million budget shortfall.
Of course, Dote’s notion is wholly erroneous, either by ignorance or calculation, misguiding, bamboozling the public, confounding the public interest.
Other council members remained silent, except Mayor Davies, who attempted to reinforce Dote’s completely erroneous perspective, by stating that the Measure’s funding stream was “fully subscribed, there’s no extra money,” and it was a matter of “council credibility.”
No council member even attempted to accurately articulate the context of Measure E, as if all were colluding to misinform the public. And you know, it would have been a simple and straightforward matter to have properly explained this subject.
Instead, the public and diligent municipal staff trying to best cope with the stark budget picture are operating within this erroneous envelope of fiscal delusion.
Public distrust of governmental and political operations is a complex phenomenon, wherein evolving civic instincts may precede conscious comprehension and eventual, clear civic understanding of the various details of the policies, facts and fiscal aspects of local governmental processes.
Replacing City Council-fostered delusion about the present budget crisis — with plain common sense — is of quite timely importance. Because — the public has now, indeed: both a substantial basis and a crucial venue for its distrustful instincts.
____ Woodland Is Wavering Over Fiscal Precipice ____
Woodland is in the midst of desperately engaging a — second sales-tax measure (Measure V) — on the June 8 primary ballot — to help mitigate the worst fiscal catastrophe in its history.
While, at the same time, its City Council is vividly demonstrating that it cannot properly manage (Measure E – 2006-18) the City’s existing sales-tax account.
Nothing could be more dangerous for our municipal welfare, than this shamefully irresponsible conduct, promulgating and disseminating this ridiculous and injurious political delusion throughout our community.
Testimony at the March 30 hearing was riveting, with a staggering narrative of impending public distress, comprising closure of the library (which kept to 40 per week, even through the Great Depression) and numerous layoffs of key personnel within all municipal departments, including public safety.
Woodland City Council must immediately reconsider and redress its current, irresponsibly disastrous policy regarding Measure E, casting aside its policymaking / fiscal delusions, in order to improve Measure V’s opportunity for success.
Woodland voters must then — on the basis of honesty, competence and transparency — be persuaded to confidently adopt this second revenue act, ensuring that our municipal ship is capably prepared to weather the continuing economic storm.
____ Policy Details of Local Governmental Processes ____
Both sales-tax measures: E and V (under state law), create revenue for only general-fund purposes (“services, programs, facilities”) — because their adoptions are based upon a majority vote.
Of course, both sales-tax measures are associated with non-binding (not legally mandatory) “advisory” (political parlance for: suggestive) measures which specify various / particular uses for which related tax revenue is intended — through the power of purely discretionary, political credibility — to be spent.
Sales-tax measures are arranged in this (“advisory”) fashion for a very believable reason — because the public is more likely to approve them if they espouse particular civic uses which are attractive to it.
However, in order for — specific expenditures — of such tax revenue to be legally mandatory — relevant sales-tax ballot measures must be adopted by a two-thirds (66.6% + 1 vote) voter majority, which is considered to be a usually insurmountable obstacle.
Thus, conventional political practice is to have purely suggestive ballot measures accompany a simple-majority, general-fund revenue measure, promoting / marketing it and — “advising” — elected officials regarding voter / community expectations about specific uses for which related revenue is to be expended.
____ Relevant Law Designed For Good Reason Is Ignored ____
Obviously, there are excellent public policy justifications for designing the legal details of sales-tax ballot measures with this bifurcated framework.
Tax revenue legally sequestered and unavailable for uses determined to be directly in the urgent / compelling, general public interest — must pass at the ballot-box on a higher voter-approval threshold — than tax revenue which is accessible to meet immediate and compelling challenges of best serving public interests.
Yet, “advisory” conditions placed upon tax revenue measures may be politically beneficial to help advance particular civic causes — under circumstances wherein service to the general public interest may reasonably be aligned with them.
Once this subordinate, “advisory” nature of influence supervenes upon the urgent and general public interest, however, such as displayed by the council-fostered delusion that such tax revenue is not or should not be accessible to meet crucial and compelling budget demands — it loses its political and legal credibility — as does any body of elected officials who purport to imprudently elevate such — “advisory” — status above basic, bedrock public interest.
Woodland City Council is now circling its delusional, policymaking wagons around such a perfect maelstrom, and as a result it will certainly inherit the ensuing political cataclysm.
____ Factual Details of Local Governmental Processes ____
Measure E was associated with “advisory” measures which plainly contained a fatal flaw, by doubly locking-in the portion of its revenue stream to be used for one purpose: road building and maintenance (at 45% or $30.2 million, whichever is greater).
So, whatever economic circumstances prevailed over its 12-year term (2006 – 2018) — the singular cause of roadway improvements would be consistently advantaged above and against all other purposes and goals set forth in Measure E’s various “advisory” guidelines.
During the present economic recession, keeping intact its “advisory” plan has meant that the proportion of Measure E revenue dedicated to road improvements has escalated from 45% — to approaching 70%.
Various other civic causes, capital improvements announced on the June 2006 ballot as political attractions for Measure E: urgently needed library and opera house expansions, as well as an ambitious community-center, sports park and senior-services complex, as well as a civic-center project have all become either: indefinitely postponed, fiscally hamstrung, significantly diminished or eliminated.
Woodland’s lavish, Cadillac-plan roadways, however, will forever reign supreme.
Well, that is, until the ravenous maw of the Great Recession of 2008 – 20?? has now arrived at the public-interest depot of Woodland’s present budget process.
____ Fiscal Details of Local Governmental Processes ____
Responding to a recent series of questions by Yolo Sun, Woodland City Manager Mark Deven has provided very interesting information, although his vacation suddenly suspended its inquiries. Deven indicates that upon his return, he will resume these responses in order to fully illuminate these matters.
Monetarily, the roads-component of Measure E is in far better shape than Woodland in general, being guaranteed — by its “advisory” policy — to receive its full allotment of $30.2 million over the term (2006 – 2018) of this sales tax.
$4.7 million of this roads revenue has already been received and spent / aggregated with other funding sources (such as development impact fees, grants) for roadway improvements — leaving more than $25.5 million within a relatively proven fiscal reserve account — accumulating at an estimated annual rate of $3 million for the next eight and a half years.
It is temporarily unclear, due to Deven’s absence, whether a small portion of the road-component (several million dollars) within its $25.5 million “life-term balance,” as described by Deven, is presently within accounts, aggregated with other funding sources.
In any case, this entire $25.5 million remains unspent, reliably due and on schedule to be received.
Where is this $3 million per annum, “advisory”-based, road improvement fund currently being planned for expenditure?
A significant amount (~ $1.2 million) is currently projected for use in the city road rehabilitation program.
Largely, though, this sales-tax money is now being sequestered for the purpose of — widening Kentucky Avenue — which is planned and intended to be “completed within about three years,” according to Deven.
Woodland’s 2009-10 Capital Improvement Program schedules the expansion of Kentucky Avenue (between East and West Streets) for 2013 – 2017, at a cost of $8.6 million — $4.6 million of which is Measure E money.
This is an example of the nature of variously co-mingled accounts, wherein Measure E’s roads-component money is presently located or intended for deposit.
____ City Council Has Badly Miscast Public Priorities ____
Woodland City Council believes that its: “Credibility, in the words of Mayor Davies, would become jeopardized if it detaches itself from the purely “advisory” constraints upon Measure E and applies these (by law, general-fund based) municipal resources — not for scheduled improvements to Kentucky Avenue and other various road rehabilitation / reconstruction — but rather, toward keeping open the community library and maintaining other basic and important community programs, as well as best preserving crucial public-safety services and standards.
Layoffs of numerous and essential municipal personnel and elimination of critical programs are now pending under all currently projected budget options — yet City Council concern is improperly focused upon its political “credibility” attaching to preservation of its regular “advisory” program of standard road improvements.
This political disposition is starkly bizarre, a distinctly compelling threat to the broad public interest and in clear conflict with common sense.
Woodland has an estimated $5.7 million budget chasm to instantly jump.
It also likely has several million dollars — currently sitting in a bank account, preparing for an easily delayed expansion of Kentucky Avenue and/or other road projects.
Plus, it has a flexible and reliable, annual funding stream of $3 million for this and similar road improvements — which may reasonably and temporarily be diverted to serving more important civic purposes.
Widening Kentucky Avenue and other roadway improvements can be accomplished — when we can afford them. Until then, the roads-component of Measure E has, strangely enough, instantly become Woodland’s supplemental fiscal-reserve account.
The flaw in the advisory language accompanying Measure E, disproportionately favoring its roads-component, has produced a fiscal anomaly which offers crucial relief within the worst fiscal catastrophe in civic history.
Spectacular fiscal malfeasance afforded viability through City Council attitude and behavior regarding Measure E, is only surpassed by its dazzling political ineptitude.
In point of brutal political fact, the precise opposite of its belief is the case: Credibility of Woodland City Council — will be virtually extinguished — if it foolishly extends its present political pretense about its legal / ethical obligations regarding Measure E money and refuses to immediately act with at least four votes (by law) to properly reallocate these reasonably available funds — within the full scope of municipal resources — toward meeting the urgently arising challenges of the new city budget.