New revenues are needed

Council should get behind governor’s tax measure

It’s a minor miracle that Chico city government has managed to survive the recession without gutting programs or dangerously weakening police and fire protection. Other communities have either gone bankrupt (Vallejo), are close to bankruptcy (Stockton) or have considered it (Merced, Lincoln, Hercules).

Chico not only has survived intact, it’s balanced its budget throughout the recession—despite the loss of millions of dollars in revenues. To do so, the city has had to reduce staffing by more than 70 positions, or 16 percent of the workforce. It has also reduced services, become creative in allocating resources, and deferred ongoing maintenance expenses into the future.

This can’t go on indefinitely. As Assistant City Manager John Rucker told the City Council during its all-day budget meeting Tuesday (June 16), “Staff is stretched pretty thin in each department.” So far the public hardly notices, he said, but inside City Hall everyone is feeling the pressure to do more with less.

And it could get worse. As usual, the state is facing a huge budget shortfall. This time the Democratic majority in the Legislature is counting on passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure in November. But if that doesn’t pass, trigger cuts will immediately hit local K-12 schools, Chico State and Butte College and ripple through the local economy.

This dire situation no doubt is what led Councilman Andy Holcombe to say, “I’m the lone voice in the wilderness on this, but I really think our city should take another look at new revenues.” Addressing conservatives’ adamant refusal to consider new taxes, he said, “You get what you pay for. And people simply are not paying enough right now.”

Unfortunately, the effort to pass a local tax measure broached several months ago by a group of community leaders has been put on hold, so as not to compete with the governor’s measure. In the meantime, council members and others who agree that new revenues are needed should get behind that initiative. It’s not ideal, and long-term pension reforms are much needed, but it’s the only viable option right now to stop the bleeding in state government—and, by extension, in city government.