Opinion | John Keatley: I am Voting Against Measure I for the Simplest of Reasons

Published : Monday, November 5, 2018 | 5:35 AM

If you’re like me and you live in Pasadena, you have probably heard a lot about Measures I and J over the past few days. Phrases like “preserving our way of life”, “getting our fair share” and “simple fairness” are showing up in print and digital ads with increasing frequency, along with the more curious “Yes on Measure I and Measure J Video Contest!” It’s easy to forget that we’re talking about raising our taxes, and that is probably exactly the idea.

Despite the nice words and the glossy brochures, I am voting against Measure I for the simplest of reasons: we are already heavily taxed here in Pasadena and we have sufficient revenue to maintain a well-run city government. All that Measure I will achieve is to delay the inevitable: structural reform that is badly needed to control spiraling costs. Furthermore, Measure I will saddle us with a permanent and significant increase in taxes — approximately $360 per household per year.

The City of Pasadena doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.

Our sales tax rate of 9.5% is already extremely high and places us in the very top tier of U.S. cities. According to the Tax Foundation, of the 115 U.S. cities with populations greater than 200,000, only 7 had a tax rate higher than 9.5% as of July 1, 2017.

By the city’s own conservative estimates (their words) in the 2019 budget, city revenues are projected to grow by 2.8% per year over the next 6 years, which is faster than the forecast for U.S. GDP growth over the same time period. The city will add $43 million of new revenue over this time period without touching our sales taxes.

The problem is our spending, which the city projects will grow by $53 million over the next 6 years with “Personnel” accounting for 83% of the increase. Personnel expenses are projected to grow almost twice as fast as our tax revenue over the same time period. This is probably driven by pension liabilities for past and current employees, but it’s difficult to know for sure based on the information available.

The city is hoping that we will be swayed by talk of “repairing sidewalks” and “emergency response times” and overlook the fact that the new revenue will go into the General Fund, which is increasingly being allocated to our ballooning Personnel expenses.

And the “fair share” argument about keeping more of our tax revenue here in the city? It rests on the shaky premise that the State of California will never raise the cap on sales and use taxes above the current level of 10.25%. It has been three whole years since they last raised the cap, from 9.25% to 10.25%. Surely they’ll never do that again…right?

As we all well know, the cost of living in this great city is drifting higher and higher with each passing month. In most cases, the causes of the increasing costs are out of our control and all we can do is watch. But every once in a while we have a chance to do something about it. Please join me and take one small bite out of our cost of living by voting NO on Measure I on Tuesday.

John Keatley

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