Opinion | William Bogaard: The Real Question for Voters Next Tuesday is This: What is Best for Pasadena’s Future?

Published : Thursday, November 1, 2018 | 1:04 PM

The real question for voters next Tuesday is this: What is best for Pasadena’s future?

I believe the answer is clear. Our community will benefit if we vote YES on Measure I and Measure J. I hope you’ll join me in doing so.

Measure I would raise the sales tax by ¾-cent to fund City services and investments in our infrastructure. By state law, this should be the last increase. Pasadena—like a number of other cities—will have reached the state limit for sales tax.

A major argument for Measure I is that, if Pasadena doesn’t act now, the County will step in with its own increase and Pasadena will see very little of the new revenues. The County has regularly raised sale taxes, including twice in the last two years. And the fact is that Pasadena gets just a fraction of the money raised here.

The most recent increase, to fund homelessness programs, illustrates the problem: More than $7-million a year is raised in Pasadena. Less than $750,000 comes back to us to deal with local homeless issues!

Some point out that Pasadena benefits from county-wide efforts like Metro’s transportation network, which is true. But we’ll continue paying our share for those regional projects no matter what happens on Tuesday.

The issue now is not so much whether to raise the sales tax one last time – that will likely happen soon no matter what we do. The fundamental question is: Where do we want the money to go? To the County, which will spend most of it elsewhere? Or to Pasadena, where 100% of it can be used to address local needs?

Apart from the unfairness of the sales tax allocation, that by itself is not a good reason to raise taxes. The reason to pass Measure I is that Pasadena needs the money to maintain critical local services. I can attest that Pasadena has been steadily cutting its budget for a decade now. The low-hanging fruit was plucked long ago. Starting next year, the City will have to make hard decisions about how—not whether—to cut critical services, including police, fire, libraries, paramedics and more.

Meanwhile, the City has had to delay investing in some critical infrastructure needs, and there are many in a 132-year old community! For example, our aging fire stations need seismic upgrades. Otherwise, when (not if) a major earthquake hits, we run the risk of having emergency services knocked out of action just when we need them most

It is easy and appropriate to question any particular budget decision, and Pasadenans have never been shy about that! But our budget dilemma is not about a decision here or there. Revenue has been dropping and expenses have been rising for a long time. That’s why we need stable funding out of the reach of Sacramento and Washington. That’s why we need Measure I.

We also need Measure J, which would use part of the funds from Measure I to protect and improve our schools.
Some critics focus on specific decisions that the School Board has or hasn’t made; fair enough. But the truth is that PUSD’s problems are due to long-term issues largely beyond local control: lower State funding; growing State and Federal mandates, including special education requirements and retirement costs; and declining enrollment from high housing costs.

School Boards will come and go, but these forces remain. That is why we need a long-term solution. Neighboring school districts have responded to similar issues mostly by raising property taxes to protect their schools. Measure J is Pasadena’s chance to achieve the same result in a different way: to provide stable, long-term local funding for our schools without the added burden on property owners.

No city can flourish without strong public schools. Pasadena is no exception. Our young people are, literally, our future. They represent 17,000 excellent reasons to vote yes on J.

Taken together, the voters’ decisions on Measures I and J are truly critical for our city and our public schools. I believe Pasadena should act now to keep sales tax revenue here in our community and put it to work protecting critical services and our quality of life.
William Bogaard is the former Mayor of Pasadena from 1999 to 2015.








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