Keeping Mesa Great has written six arguments against five of the cities ballot issues. We now have supplemental arguments under the “Ballot Discussions” section.
After the election we will undergo another revamp without a focus on the candidates but on a renewed focus on how the city can address it’s financial issues based on which ballot issues passed or failed and whether we have a Council willing to address them.
ASU, Utilities and Sales Tax
The East Valley Tribune has a couple of good articles about what’s going on in Mesa. One is about the City of Mesa giveaway to ASU for a downtown campus:
The other is about the utility rates:
Both articles contain misleading information, not by the reporter, but by the city officials that were quoted.
When Mayor Giles says that it will not be funded by a tax increase, what he fails to mention that the city is talking about a .25% sales tax increase to fund public safety, which would raise about $25 million a year. Even if such a tax were necessary, it could be deferred for three years if $75 million weren’t diverted to the ASU project.
It is also misleading for Giles to say that the ASU will not cause the need to raise utility rates increases when the impact of those increases will go to replace revenues diverted from funds that could go to general operations.
When we are told that money has been earmarked for economic development, keep in mind that those funds could be just as easily earmarked to general operation revenues or to pay off debt. The economic impact study cited by Giles does not answer the question: What is the net present value of the incremental revenues from the project less the incremental costs in services. I’ve seen the report and it simply is not there.
The irony is not lost that for all the discussion of “higher education” the city ignores basic economic analysis and chooses to play a shell game with taxpayer’s money that relies on feel good projects and keeping its citizens ignorant of what money is being spent and where it’s coming from.
Parkinson’s law of triviality mentions a case where a committee has to discuss a nuclear power plant, a bicycle shed and refreshment expenses. The short version is that they will spend more time discussing the bicycle shed and refreshments than they will on the nuclear power plant because the latter is something they don’t understand, while the former is something they all understand and can weigh in on.
I saw a variation of this in today’s Mesa City Council Study session. While the amounts they discussed to help the homeless, fund preschool and other social services are not unimportant, the spending was trivial in terms of the overall budget. What caught my attention was the common refrain that the city doesn’t have enough money for all of the programs to help people-after voting last month to move forward on giving ASU up to $75 million for a downtown campus.
In a separate item, there was a discussion about spending a few hundred thousand to improve facades of buildings in downtown Mesa to spur economic development when Councilman Whitaker asked if it was necessary if all the promised economic development promised by an ASU campus came to fruition.
The items discussed were a little more than a bike shed or refreshment expense and the ASU project isn’t quite a nuclear power plant and there will be more discussion, but the principal is the same. The ASU project is supposedly hip and cool even if Council doesn’t understand exactly what they will be doing there. Nor is there any understanding of whether the project will pay for itself. The question has been asked and they simply don’t know. If you can get a concrete answer share it with me and I’ll share it with the public.
The purpose of Mesa Matters is to share information concerning government in the city of Mesa, Arizona. As administrator, I am a believer in limited, Constitutional government whose primary purpose is to protect individual rights, including public safety. This is not a site to discuss political philosophy, which can be discussed endlessly elsewhere, but to inform citizens how their money is being spent and whether their government is staying in within their defined limits.
I’ll elaborate later but this is the quick summary
ASU wants the City to build them a Downtown Mesa Campus costing about $75 million, supposedly without a tax increase.
At the same time they want to raise the sales tax to fund public safety, even though the funds diverted to ASU is equal to about three years of the sales tax.
They say they will pay for the Campus from the Revenue Bonds and the Enterprise Fund, which gets most of it’s money from utility rates.
The city already has $1.7 billion in bonds, and $3.7 billion in liabilities against $4.0 billion in assets and a credit rating among the lowest among Valley cities.
Here is a good summary of comments when the Council decided to go ahead with the project, although we’ve been assured it’s only exploratory and not a done deal.