For the last three months all we have heard from Council Members Scott Mandel, Len Torres, and Fran Adelson and City Manager Jack Schnirman is the supposedly horrific state of the city's finances. We’ve heard it over and over and over. It’s time to stop talking and get to work; it's time for some action. Specifically, stop the spending spree, the hiring of friends and supporters and start cutting the budget, NOW!
The current budget is in effect from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. This new administration has responsibility for the last half of the budget year that ends on June 30th. From January 1 to June 30 they have complete control over spending. But instead of taking corrective action, they’ve wasted three months refusing to reign in spending and/or bringing in additional revenues.
While I firmly believe the current administration is highly over exaggerating the city’s current “fiscal emergency,” the city does face serious financial difficulties as a result of the recession and declining tax revenues. Try as they may, Mandel, Torres, Adelson, and Schnirman can’t talk their way out of this situation. Someone has to do something. They’ve already let three months go by without doing very much!
In 2004, when I was elected to the City Council, the city faced a legitimate $7 million deficit and a promise not to raise taxes for two years. We didn’t declare a fiscal emergency. We didn’t call Moody’s. We didn’t hurt the city’s reputation, home values, borrowing power, or our interest rates. We got to work fixing things. Upon taking office, we immediately forced every single department to cut their budget lines by 20 percent. Then a few weeks later, we had them do it again!
In total, we directed every city department to cut 40% percent of their discretionary spending for the last six months of the budget year, the time we were in control. In addition, we renegotiated labor contracts, changed medical insurance providers and, more importantly, we cut waste from every corner of the budget! We even cut the City Council’s salary by $20,000 in the next budget! Our quick and decisive action worked and we saw immediate results. In the last 6 months of the fiscal year we reigned in spending, eliminated the deficit and began to create the first budget surplus in years. The best part was we did it without raising taxes one penny!
Talk is cheap, and that seems to be all we are getting from Mandel, Torres, Adelson, and Schnirman. It seems like every day there’s another press release issued from city hall describing how bad things are yet no one makes decisions that may alleviate the situation.
First, Schnirman has to get honest regarding the scope of the problem. Mr. Schnirman said that in 2008, there was a $14.7 million surplus. This is simply not true. The Independent Audit Report for the 2008 budget year reported the surplus for that year at just over $8 million (see attached, page 3, bottom left-hand column). Either Mr. Schnirman is making a $6.7 million mistake, lying, or he is incompetent. In either case, his actions are inexcusable. If he uses this incorrect number as a starting point, all of his numbers thereafter are off by over $6 million. Thus the validity of the “$10 million deficit” he claims exists must be questioned.
After Schnirman gets honest, he needs to get to work to alleviate the problem. We have heard a lot of talk about new policies, procedures, and accountability but we haven’t seen any action being taken and time is ticking away. To date, there are no new polices, no new procedures, and no new accountability regulations. Not a single one. In fact, Mr. Schnirman has not sent out a single memo, nor has he directed any department heads or supervisors to cut any spending. This is a fact and it’s a mistake.
What has this administration done in the last three months to improve the city’s fiscal health? Very little; in fact I would argue they have actually made the situation worse. Despite declaring a "fiscal emergency," the new city officials have hired multiple friends and political supporters to new and unbudgeted positions despite a self-imposed “.” Furthermore, they have given unbudgeted payouts and contracts to other friends and supporters. To date Mandel, Torres, Adelson, and Schnirman’s spending on friends and supporters has totaled over $1 million!
Every one of these decisions costs taxpayers money the administration claims we don’t have. More importantly, while Mandel, Adelson, Torres, and Schnirman hire their friends and supporters, they continue to waste precious time. Where are the cuts? Where is the creativity in developing new streams of recurring revenues we were promised during the campaign? We need action now, but it would have more responsible to do it in January.
If history is any indicator, this administration, like others before it, . The easy answer is to raise taxes on next year's budget. But, taxes are not the answer. The people of Long Beach are already overtaxed and Mandel, Torres and Adelson can’t expect the taxpayers to pay the salaries of their supporters who have recently received new unbudgeted patronage jobs in city hall. The same goes for from Brookhaven that seems to grow by the week! How can we be in a fiscal emergency yet the payroll continues to grow out of control? How bad can the “crisis” be if they afford to hire scores of their friends and supporters?
The bottom line is that in three months, Mandel, Torres, Adelson and Schnirman have done nothing to get our fiscal house in order. They have spent much more then they have saved. We need the hard decisions to be made now and we need the creativity in budgeting they promised us during the campaign.
Mandel, Torres, Adelson, and Schnirman need to stop ruining the city’s reputation, scaring homeowners, hurting our property values and hiring their friends and supporters on the backs of taxpayers. They can't want for next year's budget to be adopted and go into effect. Three months have been wasted so far, it's time to stop playing politics and get to work!
Talk is cheap, it's hurting our city, and time is running out. They need to do something now! Or is Mandel, Torres, Adelson, and Schnriman’s “fiscal emergency” just a political exaggeration made up for their political gain? Actions really do speak loader than words, don’t they?