So much city news to talk about, so little time. A few things that have caught my eye lately:
• In the Journal Star’s Sunday front page story about the fight looming over Nebraska public unions, I noticed the graphic says Lincoln firefighters got 4.5 percent raises for 2010-2011. Again, I can’t believe the Journal Star is letting Mayor Chris Beutler’s administration get away with selling the raises as 4.5 percent. Here’s the deal firefighters got: They got a 3 percent raise immediately and another 3 percent this month. In what world does 3+3=4.5 percent? In Beutler’s world, but not mine. And that doesn’t even count the new calculation for their longevity bonuses, which pushes some firefighters up beyond 10 percent raises this year. In fact, I doubt the other union raises in the graphic included other raises employees can get, such as merit raises. If it’s money in your pocket, it counts.
• Did you see where Mayor Beutler held a press conference last week to warn that if the state Legislature adopts several proposed bills, Lincoln might have to raise property taxes 20 percent? The story was buried in LJS on page B2 — perhaps because they figure the Legislature won’t do all the things Beutler is railing about. But when the mayor threatens a 20 percent increase in property taxes, people ought to take notice. One bill would erase the city’s telecom tax — a whopping $7.8 million hit to the city — and another would end state aid to cities — a $1.8 million hit. State aid is intended to reduce pressure on local property taxes — so ending it would shift the burden from the state to cities. Lincoln had better hope the lawmakers don’t eliminate occupation taxes — or they won’t be building a new arena, half of which is being paid for with four new occupation taxes.
• Beutler also mentioned during that presser that the CIR needs reform, but said he won’t support eliminating collective bargaining (did you think he would?). I wonder how much Beutler will lobby for CIR reform — will he just write letters or really lobby hard?
• Steel prices just keep going up, up, up. Steel prices have gone up six times — or a total 30 percent — since November. I asked around city hall to see what impact that might have on arena construction prices, but nobody seems too worried about it. Yet.
• Finally, a council member thought of something for the city’s audit board to do! Councilman Adam Hornung and the mayor jointly announced a proposal to study the city’s bus system, StarTran. This was kind of a surprise, given that the city just went through an exhaustive, thorough route study four years ago, spending $150,000 to adjust bus routes and try to make StarTran more efficient. But perhaps this will be worth the $251,000 they plan to spend.
I’m reading about the governor’s proposed budget today, and I’m trying to figure out how he can get by with proposing a salary freeze the first year of the budget, and 2 percent the second year — while Lincoln’s city officials say they had no choice but to give firefighters up to 10 percent raises this year or face losing at a state arbitration board.
Gov. Dave Heineman seems to get by with the slimmest of raises for state employees — and they’re governed by the same laws that govern city employees and all public employees. Sometimes the state employee unions put up a fight, but they don’t seem to get much traction.
Meanwhile, the city of Lincoln is handing out double-digit-raises (to firefighters alone) and claiming they have to — because the Commission of Industrial Relations will force them to if firefighters appeal. Can somebody explain this to me? Maybe I’m missing something.