(Jan. 4, 2006, updated Jan. 5) -- At the January 3 City Council meeting, City Hall's non-public safety employee union packed the Chamber and sent speakers to the podium to complain that while police and fire employees, the City Manager and City Clerk were getting deserved raises, city management hadn't reached final agreement with non-public safety city employees by Dec. 31 on an agreement with raises for them.
These are the same City Hall employees who already stand to receive fattened pensions because of an infamous 2002 Council voted (9-0 without Mayoral objection) to boost pensions for non-public safety city employees to outrageous levels of which non-government workers can only dream.
We admire the union's advocacy for its members, and we acknowledge its pointed reference to management raises [and unstated: City Hall's retaining endless "consultants"] but no LB taxpayer should sit still for what the Council did next.
6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson (the latest LB Councilmember to seek Sacramento Assembly office) publicly pressured city management to put cutting a deal with city employees on an even faster track, although some city employees claimed talks were at an "impasse." Management said it wasn't being dilatory; it simply couldn't proceed without further instructions from the Council. [Our translation: the city employees want significant items that even LB's spendthrift Council hasn't approved yet.]
The Council caved in to this and scheduled a special meeting for Thursday Dec. 5 [update: at 5:30 p.m., not 6:00 p.m. as previously indicated] at which Councilmembers -- in closed session -- will hear from management and then tell management how to proceed...a potentially costly decision for taxpayers.
Fortunately, in a little known procedure, before Councilmembers escape into closed session, the Council is legally required to hold a public session at which time the public has a right to be heard. We hope LB taxpayers -- and City Council candidates and Mayoral candidates seeking taxpayers' votes -- use the opportunity to give Council incumbents an overdue reality check.
The long-term taxpayer-damage inflicted by the Council's 2002 pension spike (two 9-0 votes with exiting Councilmembers Grabinski and Shultz and incoming Councilmembers Reyes Uranga and Lerch) is a big part of City Hall overspending that now prompts some Councilmembers to claim they can't find money to open libraries (which Councilmembers closed) and provide sufficient police (on which the Council and incumbent Mayor have shortchanged LB taxpayers for over a decade).
On January 10, some Councilmembers are poised to vote to jam a barely-discussed parcel property tax onto the April 06 ballot. The measure -- a de facto pension-payment tax -- effectively dumps problems created by Council incumbents on taxpayers to solve.
In an aggressively anti-taxpayer stance, City Hall unveiled its strategy on Dec. 20 when it would create the least pre-Christmas news impact, then failed to agendize the subject for Jan 3...so it could blindside the public with the tax hike's details at the last minute on Jan. 10.
City management has already indicated it envisions LB residential property owners will pay all of the new property tax assessment while LB industrial and commercial property owners will pay nothing. No, there's been no serious Council discussion about this, we speculate because some at City Hall think some big City Hall-favored businesses may help fund the campaign for the City Hall-favored tax that exempts them.
Some Councilmembers seeking reelection are already seeking political cover. Vice/Mayor Jackie Kell (waging a write-in campaign) and Councilman Val Lerch (seeking a second term) claim they simply favor putting the tax increase on the April ballot so the public can decide. Kell even claimed the Council really isn't raising taxes, the public would decide whether to do that. That is a self-serving half-truth.
Kell, Lerch and the rest of the Council voted to direct city management to spend taxpayer resources (current cost: $80,000) to tell City Hall how best to raise new revenue (i.e. taxes). Why vote to spend taxpayer money to get advice on doing something you don't support?
In our view, the proposed April tax increase will be every bit Kell's and Lerch's tax increase if they vote to put it on the ballot. They voted to spend taxpayer dollars to design, engineer and test-drive ways to saddle taxpayers with the consequences. Of course it's their measure.
We also expect that if city employees walk away with a new Council-approved contract with fatter paychecks on top of already fattened pensions, those city employee unions will, in effect, repay the Council's by propagandizing in support of the tax increase...effectively sparing the Council from finding the money to reopen libraries by potentially cutting city employees.
Yes, city employee unions can support City Hall efforts to raise taxes and can use their fattened paychecks to help reeelct politicians who raise pensions and salaries.
In our opinion, this self-generating taxpayer-milking machine is hurting Long Beach. We think LB incumbents and candidates who bet their futures on machines shouldn't be reelected and shouldn't advance. That's what elections are for...and LB has some big ones coming up in 2006.
Happy New Year.