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Council Vote: Ballot To Show City Hall 2.5% Utility Tax Measure As "25%" Reduction (Read The Actual Text) Ahead Of Ryan's ("50%" Reduction)

Carroll & Grabinski Try To "Reconsider" Votes They Just Cast

(August 9, 2000) -- After nearly a year of describing competing utility tax cut proposals by their actual tax rate reductions for consumers, the City Council has voted to print the ballot propositions in a way that makes the cuts appear ten times larger, a technique suggested a week earlier by an outspoken Council opponent of any utility tax cut.

The Council's proposition for a 2.5% tax rate cut (1/2% rate reduction per year for five years) will appear as a "25%" reduction of "5%" per year and will be labelled Proposition "A". A citizen initiative spearheaded by fiscal reformer Norm Ryan for a 5% utility tax rate reduction over five years will called a "50%" cut of "10%" per year and will be labelled Proposition "B." LB's current 10% utility users tax is among the highest in California.

Mr. Ryan's tax relief measure qualified for the ballot in March (after City Hall admitted it had erroneously required Mr. Ryan to collect over 20,000 petition signatures instead of roughly 3,700 legally required.) The Council put its counter-measure on the ballot with a 6-3 vote last week. (See, August 1 Council Coverage)

Councilmembers were shown proposed language days before

The proposed ballot wording and ballot order were given to Councilmembers in writing over four days before the Council meeting, included as part of every Councilmember's agenda package. The material was also available to the public.

The Council approved the language below without discussion at the time but with some dissention afterward. It will be seen by voters in the voting booth (and in official voter pamphlets with additional information.) The Council-approved text is:

"Proposition A
Shall the ordinance which reduces the utility users tax by 25% (5% each year for 5 years), be adopted?

Propoition B
Shall the ordinance which reduces the utility users tax by 50% (10% each year for 5 years), be adopted?"

Technique urged a week before by opponent of any utility tax cut

Describing the utility tax cut as a percentage reduction was technique publicly suggested at the previous week's Council meeting by Councilmember Jenny Oropeza (1st district), who has consistently opposed any utility tax reduction. On August 1, she advised:

"I do not agree that we should be thinking about how to make a 5% cut, which is in fact a 50% reduction in funds, we need to understand, we keep talkin' about 5% like it sounds like it's not a lot. 5% reduction is a 50% reduction in the resources that come from this funding source. And I think we ought to be talkin' about it in that way....I will continue to oppose a cut in the utility users tax, a 50% reduction in revenues, or a 25% reduction in revenues. Both are too much for me...."

The Oropeza August 1 formulation was incorporated in the City Attorney's proposed ballot language and ballot order. The item was agendized for the August 8 City Council meeting as item 32.

When the Council reached agenda item 17 (naming persons to write pro and con arguments in the voter pamphlet), the Mayor announced she would take 32 (the proposed ballot language and ballot order) before item 17 because "we really can't talk about item 17 until we've had [trailed off]."

The Clerk announced item 32 as agendized: "A resolution ordering, calling and providing for and giving notice of a special municipal election...for the purpose of submitting 3 ballot propositions..."

The Council, without discussion, voted unanimously to approve item 32. (Just prior to the vote, Mr. Grabinski could be heard off mike saying, "Sorry, I was out of the room." The Mayor replied, "Item 32. That was just to ask for the election.")

After the Council approved item 32, the Mayor proceeded to item 17. The Mayor presented a written transmittal letter on ballot arguments that described the cuts in the traditional terminology ("Propositon A: Utility Users Tax Cut - 2 1/2% over Five Years; Proposition B: Utility Users Tax Cut - 5% over Five Years"), not the inflated-appearing percentages that the Council had just approved for the ballot. City Attorney Robert Shannon attempted publicly to "correct" the Mayor's transmittal letter, portraying the measures as 25% and 50% reductions. A copy of the Mayor's original transmittal letter can be viewed at Reference/Aug 8 Council meeting

Ryan speaks out

Mr. Ryan addressed the Council. In pertinent part, he stated:

"...You have arbitrarily usurped Prop A for the Council initiative versus Prop B for the citizens' initiative. I have transmitted a letter protesting that to the City Attorney, citing Gould vs. Grubb. My understanding is that we would have a lottery initially, which I agreed to.

"And I find it very frustrating dealing with this city. I have come to the table two times before for a compromise, only to be turned away. The third time I agreed that a lottery was fair, only to be told an hour and half, two hours ago that in fact that would not happen, after a closed session...The fact you that would back out of a compromise and take the risk of litigation indicates to me that you understand that there is a political advantage to being first on the ballot...My feeling is that basically you are not willing to compromise, it is a lot of talk, and at every point you have denied the voters to vote on this last March, whether that was an accident or not, and now that there's an opportunity in November, you're seeking political advantage.

"You are playing dirty, and proof of that again is in the language. 25% cut versus 50% cut. Which Councilperson proposed that at the last Council meeting? The one Councilperson who's consistently not in favor of any cut at all, and in fact argued that that should be a tactic. So, I at least want to be on the record of my objections to this and in fact I will pursue litigation to make you do that which is fair."

Councilman Jerry Shultz asked the City Attorney how the state of California determines the order of ballot measures. City Attorney Shannon noted that a state statute speaks to the order of state measures, and stated that the Council was not bound by this although it "does create a methodology or by analogy that you can use." Mr. Shannon indicated the statute puts "other legislative measures" ahead of "initiative measures in the order in which they qualify" and using that by analogy, that order is "similar to what would be used if these were state measures."

Carroll & Grabinski Try to Backtrack,
Stopped By Roberts Rules of Order

4th district Councilmember Dennis Carroll began to address the issue raised by Mr. Ryan, saying it "slipped by at least this Councilman" and asked that the Council revisit item 32 after discussing item 17. However, Councilwoman Oropeza, well versed in Roberts Rules of Order, noted (accurately) that to reconsider an item requires a motion, a second and a majority vote to reconsider by the Council. This quieted Councilman Carroll for the moment.

Colonna as Inquisitor

3d district Councilmember Frank Colonna asked the City Attorney about those seeking to write arguments against City Hall's measure. "There are individuals who are indicating that they're representing groups. For example, there is one who is stating, `President of the Concerned Parents and Teachers of Long Beach.'...[W]hat is it that's out there that requires something other than just a statement..."

City Attorney Shannon replied there was no "bright line rule", the basic point being that the "title designtion not mislead the voter and not suggest that the person represents the view of an organization as opposed to simply indicating that they are an officer in that organization, and we would have to examine each of the titles on a case by case basis."

After Mr. Shannon indicated his office would be involved in this process, Councilman Colonna said he "would like to question the authorization and I'm a little bit concerned and suspect on just how this, these empowered groups that I've never heard of, one in particular, suddenly emerges as a leading argument in proposing opposition to the ballot measure."

Carroll & Grabinski Outfoxed

After the Council approved item 17 (ballot argument signatories] unanimously, Councilman Carroll (who a week earlier had co-sponsored a Council effort to put a counter-measure on the ballot against Mr. Ryan's measure) moved to reconsider item 32, specifically the ordering dimension of it:

"It's my belief that this is a matter of great public importance, that the method whereby the propositions are denominated A and B is at least perceived to have some great significance, although personally I don't know that this situation is analogous to persons running by name...I don't perceive there's that much difference in this particular instance, but I certainly think the public should be entitled to hear the differing points of view with respect to each Councilman's position."

7th district Councilman Ray Grabinski, who tried unsuccesfully a few weeks earlier to put a different counter-measure on the ballot against Mr. Ryan, also complained about the item for which he'd just voted (and which had been presented to him and all Councilmembers in writing days before):

"I'm telling you, this is the most undemocratic process I've seen, for an issue that has premier importance, and I see some people shocked on this Council, and I appreciate Councilman Carroll's asking for reconsideration and I will be shocked, but I won't be surprised, if we don't get reconsideration...My colleagues are ready to ramrod this because they think they have the votes...I walked in on 32, not knowing that precluded what we were talking about, so I would really appreciate reconsideration, just because I was out of the room..."

The motion for reconsidertion failed, 6-3. (Yes: Carroll, Grabinski, Webb. No: Oropeza, Baker, Colonna, Kell, Richardson-Batts, Shultz).

Following the vote, Mr. Grabinski could be heard off mike saying, "That's outrageous. That is outrageous."

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