By now you probably know that Measure T was voted down last night.

We will take a little time to rest and reflect on the campaign we put together sitting at a small kitchen table a couople of months ago.

For those who are skeptical of whether they can make a difference,
we are here to say YES YOU CAN!
We are not professional political consultants, lobbyists, or campaign operatives. We are concerned residents who did not like what was happening in our City and stepped up to try to do something about it.

AND IT WORKED.

Thanks to everyone involved in the campaign!
 
 
A good night to begin to celebrate the election returns in Pleasant Hill!

Many thanks to the volunteers who put in their time and effort, putting up signs, standing on street corners, walking neighborhoods, we could not have done it without you!

It is early, but with 20 out of 27 precincts reporting, Measure T is losing 55.9% to 44%!

We are crossing our fingers!

Good Night!
 
 
They say that when your opponent goes personal, they have lost the arguement. Well, I guess the "yes on T" folks figure they have lost, because they are resorting to stealing our signs. Overnight Saturday there was a rash of thefts of "No on T" signs all over Pleasant Hill. I guess they figure that if people don't see the signs on the last 2 days before the election, they might forget about how to vote! All I can say is NICE TRY!

“First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.”
-Ghandi
 
 
Going through the City's budget history tells us all we need to understand about Measure T and those trying to push it through. Several folks, including Council members, have complained about declining revenues and having to take from the reserve. But looking at the numbers since 1998 tells a completely different story. You see, the City's budget has done nothing but grow.....and grow....AND GROW.  And the City has spent....and spent....AND SPENT:

 Year          Revenue         Spending
1998         $11.8 mil         $9.6 mil 
1999         $12.6               $9.7
2000         $14.5               $10.5
2001         $16.6               $11.2
2002        $15.9                $13.4
2003        $16.0                $13.9
2004        $16.1                $14.7
2005        $17.1                $15.6
2006        $18.7                $16.0
2007        $20.4                $17.5
2008        $30.9                $29.3
2009        $28.3                $28.2

AND NOW THEY WANT MORE. LET'S TELL THEM NO!
 
 
What Pleasant Hill Voters Need to Know About Measure T

by Wendy Lack on October 14, 2010

Measure T is a Pleasant Hill ballot measure to increase and expand the City’s current utility tax. If approved by voters, the current 1% tax on phones will increase to 1.5%, and apply to virtually all utility charges, including all telecommunications (all phones and cell phone services), gas, electricity, water, cable TV/internet and sewer charges. The City estimates that Measure T will raise $1.2 million each year to supplement the City’s operating budget (General Fund).

Pleasant Hill is a quiet, family-friendly bedroom community (pop. 33,000) characterized by strong community spirit and a long history of supporting funding for local schools, the Rec & Park District, and City government. However this year, a new and uncharacteristic anti-tax sentiment has emerged.

Some say last year’s Measure C – the Mt. Diablo School District bond measure that was sold to voters with misleading, incomplete information – has left residents feeling betrayed and cautious of new spending proposals. Others attribute the change to the national fervor for smaller government as evidenced by the “Taxed Enough Already” so-called tea party movement. Still others attribute the change in voter attitudes to continuing high unemployment and foreclosure rates in the Bay Area, combined with countless media reports of pension abuses and pay scandals among local government agencies across the state.

Whatever the reasons for these new voter attitudes, there’s little doubt that it’s now a whole new ballgame when it comes to selling voters on tax increases. And this makes the game of predicting election outcomes that much more fun for those (like me) who enjoy prognosticating about politics.

Take, for example, the slick the Yes on T campaign mailer that was received in Pleasant Hill mailboxes in early October. It’s an attractive, large full-color piece with the requisite photos of police, road repair crews and cute little children reading books. Voters typically eat this stuff up. And it says that the Chief of Police and the City Council support Measure T, to boot! In an ordinary election year, the public would swallow all of this whole. In years past, photos of a police cruiser and adorable tots would suffice to gain most voters’ support for a new tax. But this year, Pleasant Hill voters are seeing past the rhetoric and bureaucratese and making radical moves like, well, asking questions.

It appears that the 2010 voter is more thoughtful and a tad bit more cynical about politicians’ promises – which is a good thing. This may be why most Pleasant Hill voters now see Measure T for what it is: A new way to fund City employee pay, pension and other benefits in order to maintain current compensation and perks.

As a result of the Measure T campaign, voters know that Pleasant Hill employees contribute nothing towards their CalPERS defined benefit pension plan, while the City foots 100% of the cost totaling $2.8 million last year alone.

Voters also know that Pleasant Hill employees contribute only $55 towards coverage through the City’s group health insurance plan (which can cost up to $2000 per month for family coverage) which amounts to a mere 4% of the City’s cost of about $1.6 million annually.

Voters employed in the private sector sure as heck know that they don’t enjoy benefits like this and wonder why they should pay for someone who does!

Importantly, voters now realize that City compensation for Pleasant Hill employees – including its City Manager whose pay exceeds that of the State Governor – is out of proportion for a City its size and won’t change unless elected officials are left with no other choice.

Elected officials generally like to stay on the good side of labor groups, particularly the public employee unions. After all, elected Councilmembers and Board members work with agency staff daily and naturally develop relationships and rely on them. This makes it tough for well-intended policymakers to set parameters on labor negotiations, particularly when all local agencies in the surrounding area are playing the same “ratcheting up” games with employee compensation.

No employer wants to risk placing itself at a competitive disadvantage by walking the plank first – so the cycle continues and public employees come to believe they are entitled to benefits and pay consistent with the historical practice, instead of based upon the realities of a dynamic labor market.

Voters have figured out that giving government more money doesn’t solve the problem of public employee excessive compensation. In fact, the Pleasant Hill voters have figured out that giving less money to government may be the only way to bring fiscal discipline to City Hall.

During the past year voters have heard about numerous public employee benefit abuses and stories of excessive pay. These reports quickly became conventional wisdom, so that now public agencies at all levels — from schools and cities and counties, to special districts, to the state and federal government – are playing defense, and rightly so. City of Pleasant Hill employees are no different, which is why many are supporting the Yes on Measure T campaign. In fact, recent campaign finance reports reveal that one of Pleasant Hill’s bargaining groups contributed $2,500 to the Yes on T campaign — big bucks for a little local race, but probably a clever move when defending one’s nest egg.

Several Pleasant Hill City Councilmembers have stated repeatedly that they “trust the voters” – and I do, too. On November 2nd the vote count will effectively take the pulse of the community. Then we’ll find out if voter attitudes have changed as much as it seems. If Measure T and other tax hikes on the ballot are defeated, it may mean that local government’s efforts to raise taxes have awakened a slumbering giant by raising broad awareness about what’s really going on down at City Hall. In that case, perhaps we’ll have the City of Bell to thank. Stay tuned.

 
 
We couldn't have said it better! Great letter Dave!

No on Measure T

"At a time when many Pleasant Hill residents are really feeling the pinch of the recession and have had to make their own budget cuts, now is not the time to raise taxes via Measure T.

The City Council should be ashamed of itself for even considering asking the public to approve this unnecessary tax hike. The city should use the rainy day fund to make up shortfalls and also cut bloated city overhead.

The scare tactic the council is using is disingenuous; i.e. police services will have to be cut. This should be and will be the last service that gets cut.

City employees should first be asked to contribute toward their own retirement fund. This alone would make up a large percentage of the budget shortfall.

Enough is enough! Manage the city properly and not on the backs of the public and local businesses. There are no more extra dollars to be extracted from cash-strapped residents. Taxing essential utility services is wrong."

Dave Lueders

Pleasant Hil

 
 
So the City Council must have lots of free time on their hands, as they continue to write editorials supporting Measure T. This time it is David Durant, who's "Your Turn" editorial was printed in this weekends Contra Costa Times. We analyze it here: (our comments are in black)

Your Turn: Measure T will protect Pleasant Hill
By David Durant
Guest Commentary


Posted: 10/16/2010 12:01:00 AM PDT

Pleasant Hill's Measure T offers voters a simple but important choice. Do we want to take matters into our own hands and ensure that we continue to live in a safe community with rapid emergency response, a strong police force, well-maintained roads and quality services? Or will we stand by while Sacramento take-aways and a slow economy erode funds available for vital services?

Each year the state takes away our funding -- $2 million this year alone from our Redevelopment Agency and general fund combined.

...according to the City Manager in response to a question about the budget, the $2 million state take-away was ONLY from redevelopment funds, and did not take anything from the General Fund.

Pleasant Hill only receives 6 cents from every dollar of property taxes -- half of what most cities receive. And, the recession has hit Pleasant Hill hard. Pleasant Hill's limited local revenue sources have declined for three years.

...we argue that the recession has hit EVERYONE hard, THAT'S THE POINT!!! PEOPLE CAN'T AFFORD MORE TAXES!

To challenge Measure T, some pick at elements of city employee benefit packages or take budget items out of context. But, your city leadership has made strong efforts to be prudent and to operate in a cost-effective way.
 
...if discovering and talking about the fact that City employees pay NOTHING towards their retirement when almost everyone in the public sector pays a majority to fund their retirement is "picking at" benefits packages, then he's right. "Taking budget items out of context" is in reference to our pointing out that despite crying broke, the City still offers up money to lend for installing solar panels. Although we all know these items are paid for out of redevelopment money (of which $2 million was taken back by the State- so are we not concerned about that?) we suggest it is BAD FORM to complain that you don't have enough money to protect Grandma and fill pot holes, and then turn around to loan money for SOLAR PANELS!!!.....jeez, you can't make this stuff up.....  

Our city doesn't borrow money to make ends meet. It saved and built up healthy reserves. For years, Pleasant Hill has carefully cut expenses and frozen positions.

For example, city staff positions were cut by 20 percent. But, we protected vital services (more than 50 percent of Pleasant Hill's budget goes to police protection). We prudently drew down reserves.
 
...here is an interesting statement that deserves a moment of scrutiny. "We prudently drew down reserves"...when exactly did that happen? After reviewing budget records since 1997, the City's reserve has never been larger, and stands today at $10.4 million. That is $2 million ABOVE the minimum reserve set by the Council of $8.3 million. As far as we can tell, the city has not been "drawing down reserves", but has been quietly building them up. But we would say that now IS the time to draw on the reserve, rather than raise taxes. 

Yes, we must trim expenses more and have our employees bear far more of the cost of their health care and pensions.

But, cost-cutting alone is not the solution.
 
...well in reality, if city employees paid thier "employee part" of their retirement, it has been determined that it would make up for the projected deficits, saving as much money as would be raised by the new tax. So we would say that, yes, that alone IS the solution, if the solution is to balance the budget.

Measure T seeks modest revenue that provides stable funding that cannot be taken away by Sacramento. Measure T would expand Pleasant Hill's existing utility users tax (UUT) (which has not been updated since 1983)
 
...actually the tax was modified in 2006 to include cell phone service...

and increase the rate to 1.5 percent (the second lowest rate for cities in the Bay Area that have a UUT). For a household with utility bills of $1,000 per month (for things like water, PG&E, sewer, telephone and cable), that means a total UUT cost of about 49 cents per day. This small investment does not add or enhance services; but it protects vital services.
Measure T provides exemptions for seniors and low-income residents -- those who generally can least afford even small increases. It ensures accountability by requiring mandatory financial audits and reports to the public. At any time, the City Council can vote to lower the UUT again when the revenue is no longer needed. And, you have my word that I will do so.

We have a safe community with good schools and an outstanding quality of life. Do you want to keep police response times low? Do you want to keep our well-maintained streets and roads? Do you want our library to remain a safe harbor for children after school? If you answer yes to any of these, please vote yes on Measure T.

Of course we all want those things...we just differ on how to provide them. Our arguement is that the Council do everything it can on the expense side, by reducing employee benefit payments, and drawing on the reserve specifically put in place for times like these, to address budget shortfalls.
 
 
The Contra Costa Times has endorsed the "No on T" campaign by recommending a NO vote on Measure T. From the paper:

Contra Costa Times editorial: Utility tax endorsements MEASURES T, S, u AND o: Pleasant Hill voters should reject their city's measure while Pinole, Newark and Albany voters should show support

MediaNews editorial

Posted: 10/12/2010 12:01:00 AM PDT


FOUR EAST Bay cities have utility tax measures on the Nov. 2 ballot, all of which require majority approval for passage. We urge Pleasant Hill voters to reject the measure on their ballot and recommend that voters in Pinole, Newark and Albany support their measures.


No on Pleasant Hill Measure T: Since 1983, the city has collected a 1 percent tax on telephone service. This measure would increase the tax to 1.5 percent and greatly expand the services covered to include cable television, electricity, gas, water and sewer services.

This really isn't an extension of an existing tax as it's being billed. It's essentially a new tax because the changes represent a sixfold increase, raising the annual amount collected from about $190,000 to $1.2 million. While the tax was proposed to make up for funding cuts from the economic downturn, it's a permanent tax with no sunset date and no review when the economy improves.

Before officials propose increasing taxes, they could trim employee benefit costs to raise at least as much money. Currently, city workers pay $55 a month for medical coverage, regardless of the number of dependents. The city pays the rest, costing taxpayers about $1,000 per employee per month.

As for retirement, the city not only pays the employer share of payments to the state retirement system, it also picks up the employee share. As a result, for every dollar of payroll, the city pays another 37 cents for police pensions and 19 cents for the retirement of other workers.

So far so good! Now the winning line:
 


The money provides generous benefits unavailable to most Pleasant Hill taxpayers. It's unfair to ask residents to pay more while city employee benefit costs go unchecked.
 
 
We have said all along that the City employees benefit package is unsustainable. What is needed is for the City employees to pay their portion of the CalPers retirement payment, not raise taxes on everyone in Pleasant Hill. Well Santa Barbara has made the first step in getting their employees to do just that:
 
 
From the CC Times Endorsement of Jack Weir for City Council, we find this gem:

..."The city's current two-year budget spends $1.2 million more than it takes in. Sales tax, on which the city is highly dependent, was down about 15 percent from expectations last year. To help make up the shortfall, the city is seeking voter approval on Nov. 2 for a utility tax increase.


That would be Measure "T"...

..."Yet, at the same time, the city, with a tradition of generous employee benefits, provides nearly free health care and completely free pensions to its workers." (emphasis ours)

"City workers pay $55 a month for medical coverage, regardless of the number of dependents. The city pays the rest, which works out to about $1,000 per employee per month. As for retirement, the city not only pays the employer share of payments to the state retirement system, it also picks up the employee share. As a result, for every dollar of payroll, the city pays another 37 cents for police pensions and 19 cents for the retirement of other workers."

Wow, where do we sign up? The company I work for doesn't even have 401k matching anymore!

"That was bad policy when the city was flush with cash; it's horrible now that revenues have shrunk. As the city enters negotiations next year with all of its employee unions, the council needs to remember that its first obligation is to provide services while being mindful of the taxpayer burden."

Get the "rim shot" ready.......


"Interestingly, if the city required employees to pay their share of retirement, it would free up nearly as much money as the utility tax increase would generate. The pension change wouldn't solve the city's fiscal problems, but it's an obvious move that could save substantial money." (again, emphasis ours)

So the City's decision Monday night is to endorse the tax increase and hope people forget they have $2 million above and beyond the baseline reserve which is supposed to be used "in case there is a recession"?