Let’s put first things first in the suddenly crazy world of Fresno City Hall tax hikes: Keep an eye on Garry Bredefeld.
A proposed half-cent public safety-parks sales tax is heading to the City Council on Thursday. I’m guessing District 6’s Bredefeld will be the key vote.
Such a tax requires voter approval. Mayor Lee Brand wants the council to OK the placing of his measure on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. That step requires at least five council votes.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict a “no” vote from Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier. Remaining on that lonely limb, I’ll predict a “yes” vote from Esmeralda Soria, Luis Chavez, Oliver Baines and Paul Caprioglio.
That leaves Bredefeld, a fiscal conservative and one of public safety’s strongest allies. Keep in mind that Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Fire Chief Kerri Donis support Brand’s tax, saying the extra money is pivotal to future of their respective departments.
I gave Bredefeld a phone call on Monday, shortly after attending the Mayor’s late-morning news conference where he formally introduced his initiative. Bredefeld responded to me with a text message on where he stands at this point.
“I’m strongly opposed to tax increases because we’re already overtaxed and over-regulated,” Bredefeld said. “I also know that our city is more unsafe today because of the terrible policies and propositions put forward by Sacramento politicians. This is an important decision and at this point I’m meeting with constituents to get their feedback.”
That is what’s known as keeping all options open. Not to mention all opportunities for being persuaded.
I wrote in CVObserver on Sunday about Brand’s half-cent sale tax. It would generate an estimated $44 million to $50 million a year, depending on the state of the local economy. Half of the money would go to public safety, half to parks. The tax would sunset in 15 years.
If it reaches the November ballot, the measure would need two-thirds voter approval.
Brand was joined at the City Hall news conference by Dyer, Donis and Parks Director Parvin Neloms Jr. In various ways, all four said the money would do wonders for the operations and capital needs of their departments – and, hence, for the quality of life for Fresno’s 525,000 residents.
“I did not make this decision lightly,” Brand said. “I believe my 10-year economic plan for creating at least 10,000 new jobs in Fresno will dramatically improve our economic base and eventually could fund many of these improvements. But we can’t wait 10 or 15 years…. Our current revenue stream is not enough to do what the people of Fresno have elected me to do as their mayor.”
I asked just one question: Any chance of City Hall using a substantial chunk of that $22 million to $25 million a year earmarked for Parks to fund the debt service on a nine-figure bond so Fresno could build a bunch of parks in a hurry?
Brand said that’s not in his plans.
I asked the Mayor to clarify: Is he saying the construction of new parks would be funded strictly from annual revenues from the tax?
“That’s my plan for the future,” Brand said.
Nothing stays the same in politics. As Dan Ronquillo used to say from the council dais: we get five votes (veto proof), we can do what we want.
It would be easy at this juncture to get too far ahead of ourselves in this story.
For example, former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and former Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell are moving full speed ahead on their own Parks sales tax initiative, with the goal of putting it (three-eighths of a cent) on the November ballot.
Powell in a news release on Monday said he’s convinced Fresno voters in November will face only one tax measure. In other words, it appears the previous mayor and the current mayor continue to wheel and deal behind the scenes. Maybe there won’t even be a council vote on Thursday.
And I left Monday’s news conference with many unanswered questions, questions that would become irrelevant if the Mayor doesn’t get five votes on Thursday. For instance, I’d love to know how much (if any) general fund money is going toward the debt service on the 2008 Parks/Impact Fee bond and the 2009 Public Safety/Impact Fee bond. Based on my reading of city bond documents, these two bonds combined will cost Fresno more than $100 million in principal and interest over the next 20 years.
Both bonds were issued with great public fanfare. Then the fun faded.
Funny thing about government spending – tomorrow always comes.
Then, again, perhaps it doesn’t matter with a forgetful public.