It's budget time and in just a few days City Manager Jack Schnirman will be unveiling his proposed budget for 2012-2013 fiscal year. He has already laid the foundation for a big tax increase by claiming there is a “fiscal emergency” and by crying that the city’s rainy day surlus fund has been depleted. Schnirman has been chastising the prior Coalition administration for spending the city's surplus (rainy day) fund. However, I am sure that if he had the surplus available he would use it just as the Coalition did: he would use it to offset potential tax increases on our residents.
In politics, it’s easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback. But that is exactly what Schnirman and City Council members Fran Adelson, Scott Mandel, Len Torres and Michael Fagen have been doing. If the Great Recession wasn’t a “rainy day” worthy of using the city’s “rainy day funds,” when should the city have spent these funds?
What Schnirman and his administration doesn’t tell people is that the surplus was spent over a number of years to prevent property tax increases on the already over taxed residents of Long Beach during the recession. Despite what Schnirman and the City Council want you to believe, the $8 million “rainy day” (surplus) fund was built up between 2004 and 2009 and it was not spent in one fell swoop.
In 2004 and again in 2008 the Coalition promised not to raise taxes and they kept that promise. Unlike Adelson, Mandel, Torres and Fagen, the Coalition actually kept the campaign promises they made to the people of Long Beach. During the Great Recession the Coalition used the city’s surplus funds in an effort to avoid raising property taxes on our city’s residents during the most severe economic downturn in a generation.
While the Long Beach Democrats criticize the way the Coalition spent the surplus, other prominent New York State officials such as Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli advise using the same policy used by the Coalition: using surplus funds to offset tax increases. In fact, during his campaign for governor, Cuomo released his New NY Agenda: A Plan for Action. One of the key components of his plan was to “use budget surpluses for direct tax relief” (page 51). Cuomo wants to use surplus funds to avoid raising taxes on residents. While Adelson, Fagen, Mandel, Torres and Schnirman criticize the Coalition for using the surplus to offset tax increases, Cuomo is doing exactly that and he is encouraging cities and towns throughout New York to do exactly what the Coalition did!
Furthermore, DiNapoli proposed legislation that would make school districts return surplus funds (rainy day funds) to taxpayers. DiNapoli proposed a new law that would require localities to return surplus money to taxpayers. DiNapoli has "cited several districts for having excess funds” and found that “many districts had more money (in reserve funds) than would be reasonably needed." Both the Coalition and DiNapoli believe that taxpayer’s money is better off in the pockets of taxpayers than in the bank accounts of localities. Obviously, Mandel, Torres, Adelson, Fagen and Schnirman, disagree; they think they can spend your money better then you can!
Do Schnirman, Adelson, Fagen, Mandel and Torres disagree with Cuomo and DiNapoli’s policies? They must, because they have been so extremely critical of the Coalitions’ policy of using the surplus to offset tax increases - a policy that Cuomo and DiNapoli support and encourage.
A municipality’s surplus/rainy day fund is used for “rainy days”. In light of the catastrophic Great Recession that began in 2008, the Coalition had to make a choice; they could either raise taxes and further hurt taxpayers or use the surplus to offset those tax increases. I believe the Coalition made the right decision. Raising taxes on people during an economic collapse is the worst possible thing to do. It hurts the economy as a whole and it hurts individual people and families at the most local level.
The fact of the matter is this that the Great Recession that began in 2008 was the single greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. According to Moody’s Analytic Index, in April 2009 (three years ago), 93 percent of cities were negatively effected by the recession. It's 2012 and Long Beach was successful at holding off the effects of the recession until now. In my book that is an accomplishment. The surplus money that was saved for rainy days was the taxpayers’ money, and it was returned to them by holding the line on taxes in Long Beach. Did Adelson, Mandel, Torres, Fagen and Schnirman want us to use the rainy day funds earlier? Later? Never? If not during the Great Recession, when? The Republican Coalition used them in the last few years to offset any tax increase on taxpayers in the city because raising taxes on people during a severe economic downturn makes a bad problem worse.
If the Great Recession wasn’t a “rainy day” worthy of using the city’s “rainy day funds,” when should the city have spent these funds? I have a feeling that if the Coalition had chose not spend the surplus and raised taxes instead, Torres, Adelson, Mandel, Fagen and Schnirman would be screaming, “The Coalition sat on an $8 million surplus while they raised your property taxes, shame on them!”
Here is the big question; if the Coalition had not spent the surplus and today there was still $8 million in the rainy day fund, how would Adelson, Mandel, Torres, Fagen and Schnirman use it? Would they use it to offset any potential tax increase the city now faces in the upcoming budget? I have a feeling they would have used the surplus the same exact way the Coalition did over the past few years. It’s just politically convenient for them to complain about it now because it fits perfectly into their public relations agenda.
Here's the bottom line: It appears that Schrnirman, Adelson, Mandel, Torres, and Fagen want to raise your taxes - even if they don't have to. They are angry that the Coaltion used the surplus funds to balance the city's budget rather than raising taxes on Long Beach residents. No resident wants their taxes increased and no politician wants to raise property taxes if they don't have to. Yet, Schnirman, Adelson, Mandel, Torres and Fagen complain that the surplus was used and that the Coalition kept their promise to not raise taxes! If this is any indication of what this administration is going to do in the upcoming budget, you better hold on to your wallet. Here comes the tax increase!
Adelson, Torres, Fagen, Mandel and Schnirman are being hypocritical and are using the current fiscal situation to their political advantage. It’s a strategy that won’t work. All it does is hurt our city’s reputation and our property values.