City Begins "Informational" Blitz re Blank-Check Measure M With Utility Bill Insert, Webpage
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(May 8, 2018, 10:50 a.m.) -- The City of LB has begun distributing what it calls "informational" material regarding Measure M, a City Hall-written General Fund ("blank check") revenue measure sought by city management, backed by Mayor Garcia and put on the June 5, 2018 ballot by March 7 voted action of the City Council.
The first "informational" items include a multi-colored insert in LB utility bills (below) and a City Hall "Measure M" webpage.
Two years ago, City Hall's Measure A "informational" material didn't inform recipients that it would impose the highest sales tax rate in CA (tied with only a few other cities) and -- despite its inclusion of text mentioning police and fire services -- has allowed LB's Mayor/Council to avoid restoring nearly 200 LBPD citywide police officers and two key Fire Engines in ELB and downtown that LB taxpayers had and no longer have.
In similar fashion, City Hall's skillfully-written Measure M "informational" material also cites police and fire services but camouflages or in some cases omits key information. Some omissions are conspicuous by their absence. The City's utility bill insert cites City Hall's "Measure M" webpage that [as of May 8, 9:45 a.m.] doesn't include links to Measure M's text or to the City Attorney's analysis.
In the public interest, LBREPORT.com provides an independent analysis with perspective on the City's Measure M "informational" material below. We invite LB taxpayers to decide whether the City's "informational" material complies with state law prohibiting the use of City taxpayer resources for advocacy for or against a City Hall-written ballot measure.
[Scroll down for further.]
LB utility bill insert (side 1)
Measure M is a City Charter Amendment to explicitly authorize and affirm the transfer of surplus City utility revenues...
The Charter Amendment is City Hall's response after LB taxpayers sued to enforce Prop 218 (public's "right to vote") and Prop 26 (2/3 public approval vote for certain taxes.) The amount of the "surplus" to be diverted (up to 12% each year) would be decided non-elected (Mayor-chosen/Council approved) Water Commissioners or non-elected City management and would be taken from sums paid by LB water/sewer and gas utility customers for City Hall spending instead of upgrading LB's water/sewer and gas utility systems. Measure M would also explicitly authorize the City-run utilities to raise rates to cover the diversion.
...to the City's general fund to support services for Long Beach residents such as police, fire and 911 paramedic and other general government services.
Measure M is a General Fund ("blank check") measure. It doesn't allocate its revenue for police, fire or 911 paramedic services or any specific purposes. If approved by voters, LB's Mayor/Council could spend Measure M's revenue for any General fund purposes that a current or future Council majority desires. After LB voters approved the Mayor/Council sought June 2016 "blank check" Measure A sales tax increase, the Mayor/Council restored Engine 8 (Belmont Shore), paramedic rescue 12 (NLB), scheduled overdue infrastructure projects but has to date failed to restore 191 citywide deployable police officers and two key fire engines in ELB (Stn. 17) and downtown (Stn. 1's second engine to address downtown density/high-rise issues.)
These transfers have been used to support general City services for over 60 years.
The Mayor/Council began imposing water/sewer pipeline fees in 2003 and 2006 without voted approval by the public despite Prop 218 (Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Ass'n "right to vote" measure, approved by voters statewide in Nov. 1996.) The gas utility transfers continued despite Prop 26 (Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act, approved by voters statewide in Nov. 2010).
LB utility bill insert (side 2):
What is Measure M? Measure M is a Charter Amendment to explicitly authorize and affirm the transfer of surplus City utility revenues to the City's general fund to support services for Long Beach residents such as police, fire and 911 paramedic and other general government services.
Measure M is a General Fund ("blank check") measure. It does not allocate its revenue for police, fire or 911 paramedic services or any specific purposes. Measure M explicitly states that "All proceeds from its authorized transfers "can be spent for unrestricted general revenue purposes." Source: Measure M section 1407 (7), section 1501 (d). If approved by voters, Measure M utility diversions could be spent for any General fund purposes that LB's current or future Council majority desire.
Why was Measure M placed on the ballot? If approved by Long Beach voters, Measure M will eliminate the potential negative impacts on general City services from lawsuits filed by two LB taxpayers who claim that the utility fund transfers to the general fund are not allowed under the State Constitution unless there is a vote authorizing them. Measure M provides the opportunity for Long Beach voters to authorize and affirm these transfers.
Measure M is on the ballot because two Long Beach taxpayers individually sued over Mayor/Council imposed water/sewer pipeline fees (begun in 2003 and 2006 without voted approval by the public despite Prop 218/Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Ass'n "right to vote" measure, approved by voters statewide in Nov. 1996). The City also continued to impose gas utility transfers despite Prop 26 (Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act, approved by voters statewide in Nov. 2010). The City settled the water/sewer lawsuit; it won a pre-trial motion on the gas utility transfers, currently on appeal by the taxpayer.
What City services would be impacted if Measure M is not passed? General City services would likely include 9-1-1 Emergency response, police services, firefighting services, paramedic response, maintenance of streets, storm drain, neighborhood parks, senior services, libraries, and homelessness services. These reductions would likely be put in place with the new City budget in October 2018.
No specific city services of any kind will be reduced by Measure M unless a City Council majority votes to reduce them. As stated in the City Attorney's impartial analysis: "If Measure 'M' does not pass...the City Council may be required, as part of the budgeting process, to consider eliminating or reducing general City services funded by [utility transfers]" [emphasis added.] Especially after Measure A's $40+ million annual cash infusion, the Council would have a number of options, including overdue reforms (such as zero-based budgeting), rolling-back management pay raises or reducing high-paid management positions and ending self-serving embedded spending (including Mayor Garcia's LB-unprecedented ten-person staff and unquestioned Mayor/Council travel and perks.) The Council would also have the option of putting a taxpayer-friendly Charter Amendment on the November 2018 ballot that doesn't include "blank check" spending and offers taxpayers legal guarantees of restored service levels. The latter would require 2/3 voter approval, which voters elsewhere have provided.
What effect will Measure M have on water, sewer and gas rates? Under Measure M, the average rates are expected to be similar to what ratepayers have historically paid. For context on today's rates, the City's combined water and sewer rates in 2017 were on average $15 per month lower than Los Angeles. San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, and Golden State Water. Gas utility rates for residential customers in 2016 and 2017 were on average $0.54 per month lower than those of the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas.)
Measure M contains a built-in escalator clause that explicitly authorizes LB's Water Commission and City Council to fix water, sewer and utility rates in amounts "sufficient to recover" the costs of the diversions. Source: Measure M text, section 1407 (8) and section 1501 (g). Measure M would allow Mayor/Council chosen Commissioners (water/sewer) and the City Manager (gas utility) to raise utility rates on LB residents/customers to cover the up-to 12% "surplus" diverted annually to City Hall.
Will these funds be used to balance the Fiscal Year 2019 budget? No, the FY19 budget is currently expected to be balanced through budget balancing actions that do NOT include the use of utility revenue transfers above previous levels. Measure M will authorize reinstatement and continuation of utility revenue transfers that will prevent what would otherwise be a shortfall, if those revenues were lost due to litigation.
Two years ago, LB voters gave City Hall a $40+ million annual cash infusion from Measure A (imposing the highest sales tax rate in CA, tied with only a few other cities.) The current "shortfall" is the result of Mayor/Council General Fund spending actions that have undeniably included unbudgeted pension-increasing pay raises for multiple city employee groups (including "$100,000 and $200,000 Club" city management), hotel-room-tax and sales tax giveaways, sale of some city properties for less-than-appraised value and (starting in FY19) 40+ years of uncontrollable annual escalating payments for a new Civic Center without seeking bids for economical seismic retrofits. The City's "informational" material collectively refers to such spending items as among "other general government services.