by Jared Taylor
Part 1 of 3.
For the last 13 years, Gilbert budget planners have forecasted large multi-million dollar deficits. Magically, the Town ended either with a surplus or very small deficit each year. Each year some of our elected officials make the case to raise some sort of tax whether it’s a primary property or sales tax or Use Tax. Taking a moment to reflect on the history of Gilbert budgeting has great importance on our current election.
In 2009, the budget again was presented as a major crisis with a $15 million shortfall. In the midst of the worst economy in 40 years, the majority of the Town Council passed three tax increases on the Gilbert citizens. Only after petitions were submitted to refer the taxes to the ballot were the taxes quickly rescinded.
To gather ideas on how to close the budget deficit, the Council called a Citizens Budget Committee (CBC) to carefully study the budget and submit ideas. In a few weeks, citizens found upwards of $20 million of revenue generating and cost cutting ideas (Source: Town Documents). The Council used a few of the ideas that saved upwards of $6 million, but ignored the most significant ideas.
Instead of implementing additional ideas from the citizens, the Council decided to spend the money and ask voters to raise the sales tax to close the gap. The Council labeled it a “dedicated sales tax for public safety.” The CBC explicitly voted down this type of sales tax and the idea to call it a dedicated sales tax. Citizens thought it wasn’t prudent to raise taxes on products during such rough economic times, especially since tax revenues will automatically increase during a good economy, but the Council went forward with the election.
During the election, arguments on both sides were made. On the pro-tax side, four members of the Town Council—Linda Abbott, Les Presmyk, Dave Crozier, and John Sentz—stated that “Gilbert is faced with the reality of having to dramatically cut the level of service in our public safety,” and the Gilbert Police and Fire Departments claimed that 67 police personnel and 29 fire personnel could be laid off if the sales tax increase did not pass (Source: Town Documents). The Gilbert police and fire unions ginned up the public with dire predictions as well. “We don’t know where else to cut. Ultimately, the citizens will have to pay the price,” stated Jim Krauger, president of the Gilbert Police Leadership Association, which represents the department’s officers. “We aren’t using this as scare tactics.” (Source: AZ Central, “May Vote Could Affect Public Safety, Gilbert Police, Fire Unions Warn,” 4/23/2010, Nathan Gonzalez.)
On the other side, the “No on 406” campaign argued that the money to close the gap existed without the need for anyone to be laid off. The voters in Gilbert rejected the arguments of the Town Council and Town Staff by overwhelmingly defeating the proposition. At the same time, the same voters chose to raise the State sales tax to support education.
After Proposition 406 was defeated, the Town Council found a number of ways to close the deficit. Even before the election, the Town staff reported a slight surplus in the actual budget and this trend remained positive through the rest of the fiscal year. Just as it did for the last decade, the Town did not run a deficit and not one public safety officer was laid off or had to take a reduction in their compensation.
Since this experience, many Gilbert citizens have been highly skeptical of the budget planners and Town Council who have failed to reign in this sloppy work for the last decade. The citizens who opposed the tax increase are educated citizens who manage large budgets or who run small businesses and have struggled through the recession. Gilbert citizens see through budget gimmicks and excuses.
So what can we learn from this series of events? How can we translate this experience into action as we are voting for four seats on the Town Council? In part two of this series, we’ll explore the key things we learned from this experience.
Part 2 of 3.
It was George Santayana who famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Part two of this series will identify the key things we learn about our current incumbents running for re-election.
1. Our Incumbents failed in their duty to represent citizens. This point is critical to understand. In a stable republic, elected officials represent the people who elect them. The unions aggressively encouraged the passage of the sales tax increase. Town staff also promoted its passage, but citizens didn’t. Only Mayor John Lewis and Councilmember Jenn Daniels from our Town Council truly listened to the citizens and respected their interests.
2. Experience doesn’t necessarily mean wisdom or prudence. The incumbents have been on the council for a combined 36 years and yet they completely missed this issue. Further, all this tenure hasn’t fixed the broken budgeting process.
3. Current Town Council does not pay for public safety with the first dollars. The nature of budgeting requires priorities. Although the money is available, our incumbents put public safety first with their mouth, but not with our dollars. There never was a need to fire 96 public safety personnel, so why assert it?
4. Something is wrong with our budget forecasting process. For the past 13 years, the Town projects a deficit, but usually ends in a surplus. Some of these years were in a good economy while others were in a bad economy. In some of these years, the Town even cut taxes. Again, why haven’t the incumbents fixed this?
5. Our current Council solves deficits by raising taxes; citizens would rather reduce spending. The incumbents’ favored solution to solving the problem was a combination of tax increases and new taxes. Citizens strongly disagreed. Although some revenue generating suggestions were submitted, the citizens recommended many more efficiencies and cuts.
6. When asked, citizens will find ways to reduce spending. The Town Council selected a wide range of citizens. The Town staff worked very hard to provide information and analysis. By and large, the CBC returned ways to cut spending.
7. Current incumbents are not listening to citizens. Although clearly communicated by the Citizens Budget Committee, the suggestions were largely met with a deaf ear.
8. Qualified assistance turned down. One citizen offered a full year of free consulting to implement the citizens’ ideas. This person has worked for over 30 years in global corporations dealing with budgets at or larger than the Town of Gilbert. His offer was completely ignored; the Council didn’t even discuss his offer.
The incumbents up for election who actively supported the passage of the sales tax increase were Linda Abbott, Les Presmyk, and Dave Crozier.
As Ben Cooper is also on the ballot, let’s review his position on Proposition 406. Although not on the dais at the time, Ben Cooper has told people that he voted for the sales tax increase.
At a candidate forum, when asked a direct ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question if he supported proposition 406, his response was, “I didn’t support the supporters of proposition 406.” Say what?
We haven’t heard Ben’s logic on why he supported this tax increase. The citizens found $20 million and Town staff found $4.2 million when asked. All the Council needed to close the alleged deficit was $15 million.
Until we hear more sound reasoning we are left to ask a few questions. For example, “What did he see as the advantage for voting “Yes” on the Proposition? What did the voters not understand, if anything, when they defeated the proposition?” Does this portent other disappointing votes from Ben? Hopefully not; he’s much too smart to fall for political gimmicks.
Now that we’ve reviewed the position of the incumbents, the next part of this series will review the positions of the challengers on proposition.
Part 3 of 3.
In the previous two entries, we explored how the current incumbents were completely out of touch with the citizens regarding the budget and taxes. Now, let’s turn our attention to the challengers. What do we know about them?
Two of the challengers, Eddie Cook and Victor Petersen, actively fought the tax increase. They participated as residents in the CBC process and had submitted their own ideas. Further, they each did extensive individual research on the budget and found out for themselves that the deficit only existed in theory.
Talonya Adams and Jordan Ray have said they voted ‘No’ on the proposition. They deserve credit for doing their homework and coming to the right conclusion.
It should be noted that during the budget discussions, Elizabeth Cress-Sweet spoke in favor of the tax hike, although she has said she eventually voted ‘No’ on the proposition.
Also of note is that as a member of the CBC, Marci Norton, put forth a number of significant cost savings ideas.
Doug Jones proudly voted to raise the sales tax.
As we approach the election, it’s vital we elect individuals who will truly listen and represent the citizens. Further, these individuals should be trusted to do their homework and come to wise and sound conclusions. We need people to represent us, not the unions.
Eddie Cook and Victor Petersen deserve much credit for taking a leadership role in defeating this misguided proposition. Since the campaign started, Jordan Ray and Marci Norton have added a clear voice for fiscal conservatism.
Why does Proposition 406 matter? It matters because fiscal priorities and wise budget decisions drive almost all other decisions in the Town. Gilbert needs leaders who are judicious, inquisitive, and prudent with taxpayer money. This piece of Gilbert history clearly identifies those leaders: Cook, Petersen, and Ray.