Pot to the rescue?

Jeff vonKaenel

Sitting on folding chairs at the Sam & Bonnie Pannell Community Center, approximately 20 concerned residents from Sacramento Councilman Larry Carr’s District 8 and 10 very concerned police and fire safety officers attended Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s city budget town hall meeting on April 5.

There were no protesters. In fact, it was like a high school government class on the city budget. And the class was led by one of California’s most knowledgeable and experienced government policy experts, our mayor.

Here are the Cliffs Notes:

(1) Sacramento’s budget is around $1 billion.

(2) Half the budget goes to “enterprise funds” such as water and solid-waste collection. Money collected for those services can be used only for providing those services.

(3) The remaining $427 million is in the general fund; 55 percent of this goes to the police and fire departments.

(4) In 2012, city voters approved Measure U, a half-cent sales tax that generates around $30 million a year for the general fund, about 7 percent of the fund’s revenues.

(5) In 2018, city voters will decide whether to renew this tax.

(6) Due to a state mandate, over the next several years the city will also need to increase the money allocated to city workers’ pension funds up to $28 million a year. This is due partly to increases in the number of pensioners and partly to lower-than-expected investment returns.

The big takeaway is that, even if city voters renew the tax in 2018, the city will have to find an additional $28 million to pay for the increased pension costs—that, or dramatically slash the general fund. That would probably mean cutting police and fire positions, a very difficult choice. Where are we going to get that money?

Enter pot.

Steinberg said the city hopes that increased fees on marijuana dispensaries and production facilities and sales tax on marijuana products will generate millions of dollars for the city. Council members hope it will be at least $20 million.

So, in the strange world of politics, police and fire salaries and pensions are dependent upon the citys successfully establishing a significant amount of marijuana production and manufacturing within city limits.

Steinberg and Carr both talked about how money from the marijuana tax would be used to go after illegal indoor growers. These growers are relatively easy to identify because of their increased electricity use.

I wonder. If the city cracks down on illegal indoor growing, why wouldn’t these growers just move their operations from the city to the county? Unlike the city of Sacramento, which hopes to benefit from the marijuana industry, the county has foolishly refused to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and is doing nothing to encourage legal marijuana production.

This means that the county will not have additional revenue to use to identify and investigate illegal indoor growing. Ironically, this will make it a safer place for illegal indoor growing.

All in all, the city budget town hall meeting was more interesting than a typical government class. Steinberg will be conducting these meetings in each district. He has five more coming up. You should go! It will be a real lesson in government at work.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.