You can tell when a campaign season is in full swing: Factual distortions fly fast and furious, and that has been true in the case of Measure G.
As the co-chairs of SLO Citizens for Measure G, we are writing to set the record straight.
First, a little background on Measure G and our coalition:
Measure G seeks to renew a half-percent sales tax that SLO voters overwhelmingly approved eight years ago as Measure Y.
SLO Citizens for Measure G is comprised of a large group of active citizens from virtually every corner of the city’s civic life. Our group includes environmentalists, nonprofit representatives, agriculturalists, small business owners, former elected leaders, parents, educators, community activists, and others who unequivocally agree that Measure G deserves a yes vote on November’s ballot.
Our diverse group of supporters was able to come together quickly because we have all seen the benefits of the half-percent sales tax: Traffic circulation has been improved, bike lanes expanded, open-space acquired, and additional staff is now in place to focus on downtown safety and enforce neighborhood codes that improve life for all residents.
Here are several other reasons we support Measure G:
• G is a renewal; it’s not a tax increase: As noted above, Measure G would continue the revenue that voters overwhelmingly approved of eight years ago as Measure Y. Yes on G means the city can continue to improve essential services.
• G benefits all residents: This tax provides millions of dollars a year to fund street repairs, flood prevention, open-space preservation, bike paths, downtown safety, and many other items that improve the quality of life for all residents.
• G is affordable: This half-percent tax equals about $1 a week for the typical SLO resident, yet it generates $6.5 million in revenue to the city of SLO. And all of it stays here to be invested in city services. It’s also a significant portion of the city’s general operating budget, about 12 percent.
• G is fair: Nonresidents and tourists—who are large users of virtually all city services—pay nearly 75 percent of the tax while residents pay a little more than 25 percent. That indeed is a fair deal for residents.
Some opponents allege that the city is sitting on a secret pile of cash reserves and doesn’t need Measure G. That’s simply wrong on two counts:
• First, there’s nothing secret about the city’s cash and investments. The city regularly reports on its investment portfolio, and this information is publicly available and posted on the city’s website (slocity.org/finance/investment.asp).
• Second, while the city does have approximately $87.4 million in pooled investments from all city funds, about $75.4 million of that is set aside for specific projects, such as improving the Los Osos Valley Road interchange, regular maintenance and upgrades of the city’s sewer and water system, and for special capital improvements such as parking garages. Money for restricted purposes like these cannot be used for general fund operations or capital improvements.
The remaining $12 million of these pooled investments is the city’s general fund reserve—that is, the city’s rainy-day fund, to be used for emergencies, as in the event of an earthquake or sudden recession. That $12 million rainy-day fund is the minimum per city policy, and it would be quickly wiped out if Measure G fails.
Some voters are understandably concerned about the city’s future pension obligations, and some opponents have said pension costs will suck up all the money generated by Measure G.
The fact is, government agencies everywhere are dealing with pension costs. San Luis Obispo has already taken steps to address the pension issue, having recently implemented a two-tiered pension reform. City officials also are working on a longer-range plan to deal with pension commitments made long ago. And the city will have those obligations regardless of whether Measure G passes.
The simple truth is that the current City Council is legally required to fund the pension benefits that prior City Councils committed the city to. There’s no escaping that.
Further, all city employees have agreed in recent years to significant concessions in wages and benefits that are saving the city more than $3 million annually.
We also are aware that some people are skeptical about whether the tax money collected as Measure Y the past eight years has been spent as promised. We, too, were concerned about that, but after delving into the city’s records and reviewing the city’s financial statements, we say with a high degree of confidence that the money has been spent appropriately.
In fact, independent auditors have verified that the city spent our tax dollars on the items that were promised in the original ballot language in 2006: street repairs, flood prevention, open-space preservation, bike paths, downtown safety, and many other items that improve the quality of life in San Luis Obispo. For more details on how the money was spent, go to citizensforg.org/faqs.
Measure G also includes additional safeguards to hold the city to an even higher level of accountability and to ensure that these funds are spent properly and clearly tracked. The City Council has publicly agreed to three critical components:
• Developing a philosophy of fiscal responsibility that calls for an appropriate balance between personnel costs and capital improvement projects.
• Appointment of a citizens’ oversight committee to review Measure G expenditures and make sure the city addresses its financial issues in a straightforward, transparent manner.
• A scorecard that publicly tracks and measures city spending.
Bottom line: Measure G provides the means for keeping SLO on the right track—a way for us to continue to strengthen our quality of life by investing in capital improvements, open space and parks, and neighborhood wellness.
Keep SLO great. Please vote yes on Measure G.
Clint Pearce is President of Madonna Enterprises and past chair of the SLO City Tourism Business Improvement District. Andrea (Andy) Pease is an architect and principal of In Balance Green Consulting, and a founding member of SLO Green Build. Pierre Rademaker, owner of Rademaker Design, is past president of the SLO Downtown Association. For more information about SLO Citizens for Measure G, visit citizensforg.org. Sent comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.