Why Measure A Is Needed — But Is An Imperfect Solution

Kim Hughes’ recent letter to the editor (the Review, Oct. 4) regarding Measure A sounds good and we can only hope it will all prove to be true, with the sales-tax revenue enhancing services to residents.

However, voters should be realistic.

First of all, the official $1.5 million-a-year estimate of revenue should the tax pass is speculative. Earlier estimates ranged to as low as half that amount of revenue annually. Moreover, sales tax is inherently regressive and less stable than, say, a property-tax increase would be.

Second, the primary benefit of the new sales-tax revenue to the city likely will be to enhance the city’s pension contribution to its employees and to improve city employee salaries. Hopefully, this will lead to staff stability — woefully absent now — and improved continuity in city administration of city services and programs. Indeed, this alone should be reason to vote for Measure A, not that it will bring a bounty of improved services.

Bill Kelly, Oxley Street

I’ll almost certainly hold my nose and vote for Measure A. But the campaign in favor of that ballot measure is a disappointment, and a model of calculated vagueness.

In the argument submitted for the sample ballot and in letters to the editor, proponents argue for Measure A with a laundry list: parks, streets, schools, police, fire, Meals on Wheels, library, senior center, youth services, sidewalks and storm drains. I may have missed a few things there. In a city with a $28.6 million general fund, $1.5 million is going to pay for all known government services. This is the “I love lamp” of ballot-measure arguments: We’re just calling out the names of things we see around town and saying that we love them.

The reality is that Measure A is a personnel cost initiative. First, the agreements signed this year between the City of South Pasadena and its public employee bargaining units offer a three-year series of pay raises that go into effect if Measure A passes. So the passage of Measure A will pay for higher labor costs, but it will pay for higher labor costs that the passage of the measure creates: no passage, no pay increases. In a city with a severe personnel retention problem, there are strong arguments to be made for the passage of a measure that will improve employee pay. But it’s striking to watch Measure A proponents avoid making this argument, in a campaign that has acknowledged the problem of employee retention costs but carefully makes no reference to the fact that pay raises only go into effect if the ballot measure passes.

Second, Measure A is meant to create a revenue stream to help with the metastasizing Calpers burden, a problem that threatens to consume local governments all over the state.

California is trapped in a salary and benefits arms race for public employees. Look at the database on the Transparent California website: In 2018, the highest-earning South Pasadena city employees were a fire department engineer and captain, who each made nearly $300,000 in total pay and benefits — more than doubling their salaries with the use of overtime. But we’re losing public safety employees because we pay so poorly. How can we possibly expect firefighters to stay in a city where an engineer can only make $291,000 a year? It’s like a page from Oliver Twist.

The problem is pretty obvious. Measure A holds the collapsing machine together with duct tape, and we need to hold the collapsing machine together. But it’s not a solution.

Chris Bray, Grace Drive

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