I knew Mayor Chris Beutler’s re-election would guarantee a property tax increase this year, but I didn’t think he’d admit to it so soon after winning his second term.
But there it was, right between the lines on the front page of the LJS:
The mayor, already deep into budget analysis, said he expects to ask for a public discussion on some serious questions:
* Should the city make deep cuts in services or raise more revenue?
* Should the city have a limited roads maintenance and construction program or raise more revenue? This will include a discussion about using more bonds for roads building.
“Raise more revenue” — how does a city raise more revenue? Through fees and taxes. Fees have gone up every year Beutler’s been in office, so that’s a given. And this year I expect Beutler will finally propose a property tax increase. And any discussion about building more roads through bonds means a property tax increase, since that’s how bonds are paid off.
Beutler promised “serious cuts” — but in his first term he backed off pretty quickly at any whiff of public opposition to his cuts. Pool closures, library cuts, even “meter readers” — very rarely did he go through with major cuts. He often brags about cutting 120 city positions — but only a handful of those were pure layoffs.
He said “revenue increases” will be considered. Again, he’s avoiding the word “tax,” but that’s what a “revenue increase” is.
I expect he’ll try to lay a lot of blame on state lawmakers for cutting state aid, but that only accounts for $1.8 million of the problem. Even before that cut became known, the city was projecting a $6.3 million deficit — and that’s not even counting raises that will have to be given to most city employees. The city projects that gap will widen to $19 million in five years, if things don’t change. So we’re sitting in almost the exact same place we were before he was elected to his first term as mayor.
Beutler said in his interview that the city budget was structurally imbalanced even before the recession took hold and he took office. But Beutler ran for his first term on a promise to fix the budget, and didn’t do it.
Here’s what he said in 2007, while campaigning for mayor:
Citing his experience with state budgets as a 24-year lawmaker, he says it’s time to fix a “structural problem” with Lincoln’s budget: City expenditures are outpacing revenue, according to five-year projections. “The City Council and the mayor have let this go on for way too long,” he says, “so that today what you have going on is essentially a mess.” In the short-term, it’s going to take “real cuts” not “one-time” cuts the council and mayor have made recently. He promises not to raise property taxes to make ends meet.
Seems to me, little has changed since then. Here’s what he said this week:
Before he became mayor, city budgets were being plugged with “one-time funds or other manipulations,” he said. Beutler would like to “restore fiscal order” to the budget.
Deja vu, anyone?
Now before you start accusing me of beating up on Beutler too much, know this: I voted for the guy. So did 65 percent of voters on Tuesday. If that isn’t a mandate to make the tough decisions he promised to make four years ago, I don’t know what is.