The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the proliferation of recalls nationwide, focusing on the one up north, in Omaha.
WSJ theorizes that Jim Suttle’s misfortunes are more a part of Obama-backlash. But I think this sentence in their story might be more relevant:
During his campaign, Mr. Suttle pledged to hold the line on taxes. Then sales-tax revenues crashed just before he took office, leaving the city facing a $10 million budget shortfall.
In response, Mr. Suttle cut the budget by $7 million, then pushed through two real-estate taxes, a commuter tax and a restaurant tax that generate about $37 million a year (a roughly 5% bump to the city’s $662 million annual budget). For the owner of a median-price home of $133,000 in Omaha, the real-estate taxes cost $90 a year.
About $13 million in the additional tax revenue has been used to pay down the $850 million in unfunded pension obligations, said Pam Spaccarotella, the city’s finance director.
Lincoln’s mayor has also presided over increases in the telecommunications tax and bar and restaurant taxes — but voters approved the bar and restaurant tax to pay for about half of the arena project, and the telecom tax went largely unnoticed by the Average Joe.
However, next year, if Beutler is re-elected, I think it’s unlikely he’ll avoid raising property taxes to fund the next budget. Parks Director Lynn Johnson recently told the parks advisory board that the city used about $4 million in one-time money to balance this year’s budget, and in order to balance the next budget are to find more revenue (most likely by increasing property taxes) or significantly reduce city services and continue reorganizations.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle faces a recall election next month; Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler is expected to win re-election in the spring. The World-Herald reporter, Robynn Tysver, analyzes why Suttle is struggling and Beutler is not.
Seems to me it comes down to the fact that Suttle is paying for some bad decisions by former mayors — but at least he’s dealing with them, even if that means tax increases are necessary. Meanwhile Beutler has not really solved Lincoln’s budget problems either, but somehow every year he seems to find a pot of money or slip in a telecom tax, with the help of four supportive Democrats on the City Council. And the city closes a budget gap for one more year.
But the real problem — the structurally imbalanced municipal budget — persists. Even a hint of controversy or grassroots opposition to a proposal (cutting meter readers, closing pools, raising property taxes) and he backs off. Beutler isn’t tone-deaf, as Tysver describes Suttle, but he is overly sensitive to criticism.
Personally, I think Suttle deserves credit for making tough decisions, at his own peril. If he survives the recall, Omaha will be closer to dealing with its budget problems. I prefer politicians who don’t make decisions with an eye toward the next election, but with a willingness to do what needs to be done, even if that means they won’t be re-elected.
Beutler brags about how much he does to tap into the public’s opinion, and yes, he does do those annual surveys to ask people to make budget choices. They’re expensive, but it’s a worthy effort. However, as for seeking public opinion in town hall meetings, Beutler isn’t so good at that. Some of the attendees at his budget roundtables were hand-picked, and basically city officials give their side of the budget story for a day, and by the end the attendees are putty in Beutler’s hand.
During the arena campaign, the Journal Star and other entities tried to get city officials to do town hall meetings on the arena debate, but the Beutler administration flat refused to offer up city employees to do any. Why? They wouldn’t be able to control the situation — people might get out of hand or too critical. So yes, Beutler does check the pulse of the public — up to a point.