(CBM) – Community advocates and business leaders will put pressure on Mayor Darrell Steinberg at Sacramento City Hall this afternoon to make good on a promise he made to them last year.
The mayor won the support of some grassroots organizations and business leaders in the city for a ballot initiative called Measure U. That proposal called for a half-cent sales tax increase calculated to raise about $50 million every year for investments in the city’s disadvantaged communities.
Last November, 57 percent of Sacramento residents voted to approve Measure U.
But last week when city manager Howard Chan submitted the mayor’s budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, he placed the new revenue expected from Measure U into the city’s general fund. Sacramento uses that pool of money to pay for various city services, including firefighters, law enforcement and rising pension costs expected to balloon to over 120 million by 2023 – from $64 million in 2017-18.
The budget did not reflect the plan the mayor sold to community advocates that prioritized funding programs for the homeless, affordable housing, job training and economic investments in Sacramento’s left-behind neighborhoods.
When Steinberg pitched the proposal to city residents, he promised the money would be used to improve the lives of people, economic conditions and infrastructure in neighborhoods of the city with the lowest median income, the most unemployment and the highest youth crime rates.
“We are going to invest in communities that have been long forgotten,” said Steinberg while selling his proposal to voters last year. “I campaigned from the very beginning on Measure U – to take this second half-cent and invest it in growing Sacramento in an inclusive way.”
Over the years, there has been less public and private investment in many of those areas of the city like Del Paso Heights, Oak Park and Meadowview, partly because they are located in “hard-to-count” tracts where the US Census has historically undercounted African Americans and other minorities.
Steinberg also plans to “securitize” the Measure U money. That means the city will take a 30-year loan to sell bonds against the Measure U money that they hope will raise about $40 million a year over the next three to five years. Critics say that plan puts the city financial future at risk.
The Sacramento City Council is expected to vote on the budget June 11.
Reacting to the city’s proposed budget , a cross-section of Sac City residents including business investors, activists and community leaders are banding together to oppose the mayor’s about face on Measure U investment.
“I am disappointed about recent conversations about Measure U funding,” tweeted Barry Broome, President of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council. His organization is a public-private partnership that supports growing the local economy, scaling business and creating jobs in the capital region of the state.
“I am hearing that our disadvantaged communities may be overlooked once again,” he said. “If those communities are not included in the Measure U funding, I think repealing the measure should be on the table.”
Some African-American Sacramento residents are not surprised by the city’s decision to repurpose the money.
“The proponents of measure U claim the new revenue will be used to make needed investments in affordable housing, job creation, parks, libraries, youth services and address the needs of unhoused residents, said Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento branch of the NAACP, predicted last year while Steinberg and other supporters were pushing the initiative. “These claims are disingenuous, because city budget projections are filled with red ink for years to come due to excessive salary and pension obligations. At best, less than half of the measure U money could be used as advertised.”
The city council is expected to convene at 2 PM today, shortly after the community advocates hold their press conference. Today’s meeting is shaping up to be a first test for the mayor and the city council as they get face-to-face feedback from the public on the budget.
Sacramento voters initially approved Measure U in 2013 to improve city services. The half-cent sales tax increase has raised about $50 million every year since then. Last November, they voted for another Measure U half cent tax increase that pushes the city sales tax to $8.75 and is expected to raise a total of about $97 million over the next fiscal year.
By Antonio Ray Harvey | Sacramento Observer and California Black Media