Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Will the City of Stockton Ever Be Able to Hire the 120 Additional Police Officers Promised in the Measure A Tax Increase?

As pointed out in today’s Stockton Record (also see Michael Fitzgerald blog post), the City of Stockton has yet to hire any additional police officers with Measure A funds.  Officer attrition is high, and hiring is slow.

I was a notorious fence-sitter during the Measure A debate, upsetting a lot of people because I was waffling for and against the tax.  It was a close call, and the City dropped blockbuster creditor settlements and a new bankruptcy exit plan in October that greatly changed the situation.  I ultimately gave Measure A a very tepid endorsement, but many of my concerns about the unrealistic promises made to promote Measure A are now being realized.

Since the City unveiled Measure A, I have warned that my review of the City’s financial projections made me doubt whether the City could live up to all the promises made in the Measure A campaign: namely that it would a) finance a bankruptcy exit, b) add 120 new police officers, and c) sunset in 10 years.

The City broke its promise about the 10-year sunset even before the election by assuming a permanent tax increase in the bankruptcy exit plan it filed with the court.

After Measure A passed, I wrote in the January 2014 forecast “it is clear that the City will have extremely tight budgets for the foreseeable future and hiring all of the promised 120 police officers will prove difficult, especially if new employee contracts include restoration of raises and cost of living increases.”

These news reports of the struggles in hiring and retaining police seems to be setting the stage for higher compensation in future contracts.  In addition, the bankruptcy exit is already costing the City more than it projected - the offer to Franklin has increased by $4 million and the City is still paying high-priced bankruptcy lawyers when it had projected it would leave bankruptcy before the middle of 2014 if Measure A passed.

Back in the May 2013 forecast, even before the City proposed Measure A, I projected that the city would need a ½ cent sales tax increase just to finance its bankruptcy exit if it didn’t hire any additional cops, and that there would only be ¼ cent available to increase police staffing, enough to perhaps hire 50-60 police officers.  This was in major part of my argument against the Mayor’s “Safe Streets” half cent tax proposal dedicated to public safety because it was unrealistic and would make it impossible for the City to finance its bankruptcy exit.

Measure A proponents headed off the Safe Streets proposal by promising ½ cent to pay for cops and ¼ cent to pay for bankruptcy exit, and even gave voters an advisory Measure B to express this desire.

Now, it appears that arithmetic will ultimately prevail and Stockton voters may only receive half the police they were promised as bankruptcy and pension costs mount, and pressure increases for employee raises.

I am not surprised or disappointed in these developments as it is where I thought things were inevitably headed all along, and there wasn’t and isn’t necessarily a better financial plan for the City.  I am disappointed in the process, although it is not unusual for government officials to promise more than they can deliver and passing Measure A may have prevented an even worse outcome.

But it will further erode Stockton voters’ trust in City Hall, and the voters should hold City leaders accountable for keeping costs down and doing everything they can to deliver the services promised to them.

About the Author

Ethan Jacob

Author & Editor

I am Ethan Jacob Executive Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific, where I have a joint faculty appointment in the Eberhardt School of Business and the Public Policy Program in the McGeorge School of Law..

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