I hope my fellow taxpayers will join me in voting no on the proposed, permanent sales tax increase. It’s bad fiscal policy and very bad for Petaluma.
For one, the tax is regressive, which means it hits the middle class the hardest, the middle class that has suffered substantially for over a decade both locally and nationally. In addition, the council is leaning toward a general tax, meaning it can be passed by the slimmest of margins. To make matters worse, politicians will be able to spend as they see fit (with no fiscal oversight) to advance their personal political agendas after the “current crisis” has passed.
Contrast this with the City of Fairfield that asked for a 5-year sales tax increase, but only after they negotiated serious changes in their employee pay and pension benefits, bringing a savings of many millions of dollars to the cost of government, something Petaluma’s political leaders seem unable or unwilling to do. Obviously, we should reject any permanent tax increase that hampers us from monitoring the effects of increased taxes on our economy.
As more and more people are starting to realize, a great deal of our financial problems stem from the inordinately generous pay and pensions to city employees, most specifically the police and fire departments. Those two departments alone account for 72 percent of the city’s budget, and are growing like a weed. For example, our finance director projects a 40 percent increase in benefits in the next three-and-a-half years. As a result, our unfunded pension liabilities have jumped from $40 million to $47 million.
While some may think I’m anti-union, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve spent a day in both the police and fire departments and never have I been more impressed with their skill, enthusiasm and willingness to go the last mile to protect us than I was on my visits. Petaluma’s most pressing issue is not their competence or performance, but the skyrocketing costs of their pay and pensions, negotiated with our political leaders when the economy was truly healthy (i.e. before the national financial crash).
Because of these serious flaws in the proposed permanent increase in our sales tax, I shall vote a resounding no and urge all other taxpayers to reject it until our so-called political leaders come up with a prudent fiscal plan. If Fairfield can do it, why can’t Petaluma?
Another example is the steady progress in this area being made by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors under the leadership of Petaluma’s representative David Rabbitt.
Finally, I shall withhold my vote from every political candidate who does not spell out, in detail, a plan to make serious changes in Petaluma’s employee pay and pension scheme, one that threatens to wipe out the benefits of an improving economy and not one, but two new shopping centers.
(Bruce Blinn is a Petaluma resident and a chartered financial analyst and a financial consultant specializing in corporate start-ups and turnaround situations)