Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good Government Would Allow the City Council to Approve or Not Approve the Tax Increase - Jim Vokal, Chairman Omaha Moving Ahead PAC

Recently it was announced by the Suttle administration that the Mayor can raise the property tax rate without the City Council’s approval. This issue came up when a Councilmember proposed stripping that same increase out of the budget. The City Council should oppose this tax increase and work with the Mayor on additional spending cuts and not place this added burden on Omaha taxpayers. The Mayor on the other hand, should abandon this idea of raising the rate without the checks and balance of a City Council approval.

Section 5.06 of the City Charter states in part, “after the hearing, the Council may revise the expenditure side of the budget by increasing, decreasing, inserting, or deleting appropriation items, except that is shall not reduce appropriations for debt service.”

Let’s assume for a moment that the legal interpretation of Mayor Suttle and the City Attorney is correct. While I disagree wholeheartedly, Mayor Suttle has stated that an increase in the property tax rate is necessary for the payment of debt payments beginning in 2011. Then why is he asking Omaha taxpayers to start paying for those 2011 payments in 2010? It appears that the debt service fund is indeed solvent for another year and a half. Omahans should be kicking and screaming that he is placing additional burden on families for no reason in 2010. If he truly has this power, he should wait one more year to do it. Perhaps, the economy will rebound and the rate increase would become unnecessary next year. Mayor Suttle is capturing this property tax rate in 2010 for other uses and/or is fearful of raising taxes one year closer to a possible re-election campaign.

Continuing with the assumption that the Mayor can unilaterally raise property taxes with Council approval, one can conclude that this is just bad government. Why would an unpopular Mayor want to try to alienate the City Council? Prior to this Administration, then Mayor Mike Fahey spent great effort on Mayor/City Council relations. As part of that team, I can tell you that good government is government working together. This unilateral act does not display those characteristics of government that the public has grown to expect in Omaha.

The City Charter was carefully developed to provide the public with a check and balance system of government. Specifically, as the Legislative Branch, the Omaha City Council should at all times have the authority to hold a public hearing on the Mayor’s budget and then approve or not approve accordingly. If this Charter provisions is followed, Mayor Suttle is denying your City Council representative to weigh into this debate and possibly avoid a property tax hike. As one Councilmember said, that four hour public hearing on the budget last week becomes “a sham”. The public has voiced its concern. The Mayor should listen and let the Council do their work. If raising taxes is indeed the right thing to do, then Mayor Suttle should be able to convince the City Council to support him and allow them to vote.

We all should hope that the City Council does not treat this recent turn of events as a “way out” of voting on a property tax increase. They should demand an outside legal opinion or make an inquiry to the Attorney General. More importantly, regardless of their position on the rate increase, they should want to vote. That is why they were elected and it would avoid a probable legal challenge certainly to be filed by an Omaha taxpayer.

In the next four years, this property tax increase and corresponding budget will be one of the most important issues facing Omaha. We have heard on many occasions from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce that property taxes are a main reason why businesses refuse to locate their headquarters in Omaha. We hear from senior citizens that are moving away because of the high property tax environment. Finally, we know that young professionals are struggling to purchase homes because they simply can not afford the taxes. Given this all important issue, whether legal or not, Mayor Suttle should (once again) take a step back and reconsider his approach. Good government would allow the City Council to approve or not approve the tax increase.


Anonymous said...

This is why we wish the right Jim (Vokal) was our Mayor.

MJ said...

Jim Vokal = Sore Loser. Where was this "Watchdog" the last eight years? Pathetic.