The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

November 2, 2010
Mayor Johnson 'reluctantly' opposes utility rate rollback

It took until the night before Election Day, and after many voters had already mailed in their ballots.

But Mayor Kevin Johnson declared Monday evening that he is "reluctantly" opposing Measure B, the high-profile local proposal on Sacramento's utility rates, because it could reduce funding for public safety.

"On one hand, citizens have every right to be upset with recent increases in utility rates. A double-digit rate increase in the past two years - during the worst economic recession in several decades - has put undue hardship on citizens, particularly low-income families and seniors," he wrote on his blog.

"Moreover, our Utilities Department has not demonstrated the kind of accountability, efficiency and transparency taxpayers deserve. When I ran for Mayor, there were many examples of waste and abuse in the department. Two years later, I cannot say these problems have been fixed - despite my many calls for a top-to-bottom audit of the department.

"On the other hand, as Mayor, I must ultimately look at the big picture. Public safety is the top priority of both the city and my Administration. Cuts in revenues from utility fees could lead to reduced resources for our cops and firefighters. And this is a risk we cannot afford to take. We can't make it harder to balance the budget when we are trying to put more cops on the beat and keep fire stations open."

If approved, the measure would roll back the 9 percent hike that took effect in July. It would also freeze rates for a year and require the city to get voter approval for any subsequent rate increases above the consumer price index. Its main sponsor is the Sacramento County Taxpayers League.

The proposal is being opposed by every other member of the City Council, the city police and fire chiefs and unions and more than 30 neighborhood leaders. They say it would worsen the city's budget crunch.

UPDATE: Craig Powell, chairman of the pro-Measure B campaign, responded to Johnson's decision by calling it a "missed opportunity."

"By opposing Measure B, he missed an opportunity to lend his support to a measure that will do more to create new jobs and reduce business failures in Sacramento than any other action we as a city can take this year," Powell said in a statement. "He missed an opportunity to support a measure that will bring real, lasting relief from escalating utility bills that are punishing hard-pressed Sacramentans, particularly our seniors and low and moderate income residents.

"Finally, he missed an ideal opportunity to support a measure that will impose much-needed budget discipline on Sacramento's scandal-plagued and mismanaged utilities department.

Powell (who happens to be the husband of Paige Powell, one of the candidates the mayor is backing for the Sacramento Unified School District) also asserted that Johnson's reasoning that Measure B could imperil public safety is "completely specious."

"At the very most, Measure B will reduce general fund revenues by $2 million two-tenths of one percent of the entire city budget) and will not impact public safety," Powell's statement said. "In fact, Measure B will almost certainly increase the city's tax revenues and its ability to fund public safety. By lowering and constraining city utility costs, Measure B will help tax-paying Sacramento businesses survive the current recession. It will also markedly improve our business climate, help bring new jobs to Sacramento and generate higher general fund tax revenues for the city, not less."



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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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