Sacramento budget oohs and aahs (and 'oh shits')

The city of Sacramento’s coffers love the ol’ up-and-down.

These days, for the first time in years, the numbers are feel good. Voters passed a new tax, Measure U, in 2012, and for next year’s budget the city anticipates a $31.8 million windfall.

City Council will be talking about this, and more, at Tuesday’s meeting.

There is some bad news, however. The Measure U tax expires in April 2019. You do the math: No more $32 million a year, plus $22 million in annual arena debt and another $20 million in new public-employee pension obligations. That’s a $75 million deficit. 


This is how City Hall staff put it in a budget report for this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting: “The City will be challenged with a ‘fiscal cliff’ in [2019] when the current General Fund forecast indicates that the City will be unable to sustain funding … significant increases in General Fund revenues.”

Basically, a very buttoned-up way of saying “oh shit.”

But fear not, naysayers. The city projects a General Fund increase of $42 million in 2019. SN&R isn’t sure where this chunk ’o’ change will come from over the next five years. But just like the attorney in Idiocracy, we like money, too.

The catch is that the city can only spend Measure U revenue on essential services like police, fire and parks. Next year, for instance, they plan to eliminate fire station brownouts and hire 14 more police officers and investigators.

But in 2019, there will be no more coin to pay for all these new public-safety obligations.

The solution? Probably pass another sales-tax increase, much like the original Measure U. That’s City Management 101, people.

Of course, it’s possible that in five years voters will be sick of fees and taxes. It took a complete and total breakdown at the Capitol and years of brutal budget deficits to pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 in ’12. And, while Sacramentans voted for Measure U with a 64 percent majority, who knows what the local body politic will be up for in 2018, when a new tax measure would have to go before voters.

Anyway, enough crystal ball nonsense. Pass the moscato and let’s just enjoy that $32 million!

(One quick side note. Did you know Measure U isn’t a sales tax? It’s a “Transactions and Use Tax.” What this means is that, when a city resident goes to Roseville to buy a car at the auto mall, the city of Sacramento gets the tax revenue from that sale. That’s why Measure U has generated more than the projected $28 million a year.)

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