Let’s get the good news out of the way first, because we do need cheering up when it comes to the budget. April sales tax collections hit the city budget target, and we’re only off 4.4 percent for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
And, given our budget troubles, down 4.4 percent is good news. It has been a lot worse.
The bad news? The city council seems to be moving toward a property tax hike, which is not unlike giving a small child matches and gasoline to play with. Meanwhile, Mayor Park Cities insists there will be no tax hike, and that we can fund essential city services with a bond election. Which, of course, is the same thing as a tax hike, but one that doesn’t take effect until he is out of office.
The sales tax details are in our handy sales tax chart; the raw numbers are on the state comptroller Web site and are listed about two months ahead, so the figure given for June is money collected in April. The sales tax accounts for about 22 percent of the city general budget; another 43 percent comes from property tax receipts.
The not so good news about the sales tax collections? That’s the least collected since 2006, and a 9.5 percent decrease from the 2008 number. City manager Mary Suhm and Leppert can parse the numbers anyway they want, but when we lose almost 10 percent of a month’s revenue in two years, something truly bad is going on.
I took a lot of heat last year when I supported a property tax hike to preserve some essential city services. But don’t worry. I’ve seen the error of my ways. This council can’t be trusted to spend a property tax hike wisely. After all, on the eve of the budget crisis, they denied there was one. During the budget crisis, they refused to do anything to fix it. So now, two years later, what’s the point? Let’s cut the budget and get through this thing the best we can, and start over in 2011 or 2012 when the economy improves. With, hopefully, a more enlightened city council after next spring’s elections.
Which brings us to Leppert’s suggestion, as reported by Channel 5’s Ken Kalthoff: “We’re going to maintain all the potholes, and we’ll deal with all that situation, but the big street repairs — that never comes from the operating budget. That’s got to be a bond issue.”
So we’re going to borrow money — and pay interest on that money — to fix potholes. That’s an odd position for a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative like Leppert to take. Unless, of course, the self-proclaimed fiscal conservative was planning to run for the U.S. senate and one of his campaign slogans was going to be that he didn’t raise taxes while he was mayor. In which case, his position is craven, self-serving and hypocritical.
Borrowing to fund current city services is lousy government, as New York City learned in the 1970s. Unless, of course, you’re a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative who won’t be around to share in the fun when the debt comes due. Note to Leppert: The percentage of the city’s total operating budget that goes for interest payments on debt has increased from 10.7 percent of the budget in the 2006-07 fiscal year to 14.4 percent in 2009-10. Forget about bridges or tollways. That’s going to be your legacy to Dallas.