- Reporters Desk
By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
On June 7, Long Beach voters will have to decide on whether to support Measure A. The measure is asking voters to decide on whether to spare some change to help the city fix some leaks and save for a rainy day. Voters would pay an additional penny for every dollar they spend on retail items for six years. Thereafter, the sales tax will be reduced half a percent for four years. Proponents say the revenue, which would be placed in the city’s general fund, would be used to pay for needed infrastructure and public safety.
“For people like me, who have a family and shop in Long Beach, this is just unreasonable,” Franklin Sims said. “That’s why I’m personally invested.”
Sims said he hasn’t decided what camp he is in with regards to taxes — whether he his against all taxes or just regressive taxes.
“For me, it’s less about a particular position on my tax philosophy and more about what I see as unaccountable politicians … and unjust policies that come with a regressive tax,” he said. “My focus is on accountability and justice.”
Sims is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. While at Berkeley, he joined and became the editor of the Berkeley Journal of African American Law and Policy.
“My involvement in symposiums like that at Berkeley increased my compassion for the impact of policies on segments of society that are often ignored,” Sims said.
He earned a master’s of law degree at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He also was a philosophy major at Cal State Long Beach.
“I loved the tax philosophy courses most because they dealt more with how tax policy intersected with fairness and justice for people at all income levels,” he said.
Long Beach Rebellion
The 33-year-old law school consultant created the Long Beach Rebellion, to support the Long Beach Taxpayers Association. The association is known for filing a civil grand jury complaint against the city for “corruptive” fiscal practices in 2011. Its members believe the revenue from the Measure A sales tax will just go to the general fund and get frivolously spent.
Long Beach Rebellion asserts that if the measure were to pass, the tax would make Long Beach less competitive and less business friendly.
“When you have business owners who are trying to make a living and sell products you are making it very difficult,” Sims said. “And, Long Beach has a huge community of small business owners.
It’s not clear what is the main concern of the group, whether it is the concerns about how the money will be spent or the impact on businesses, but Sims also believes Measure A is a regressive tax that will hurt the poor and seniors.
“If you buy a Snicker bar you are probably not worried about that, but what if you go school shopping for your kid, or what if you go buy a television, or what if you go buy a car, for God’s sake?”
Measure A Proponents
The measure’s proponents, Mayor Robert Garcia, former Mayor Bob Foster and former Mayor Beverly O’Neill, say the revenues would go toward putting more police on the streets, improving 911 paramedic response times, restoring fire engines, fixing streets and roads, and upgrading the city’s water systems.
“As a parent, I want my daughter to be safe,” Sims said. “So, when the mayor tells me that he wants to hire more police and firemen and fix the roads and streets, I’m for it. My problem is the mayor doesn’t want any accountability…. This measure is going to go into a general fund … if enough city council people want to spend it whatever pet project they have going, than they can.”
The tax would infuse about $48 million annually into the city for the next six years and $24 million for the four years that follow. Citywide, this could translate into about $100 million for street repair, more than $18 million of parks and $3.7 million for library repairs and hearing impaired equipment.
Sims said his group is suspicious of the measure because there is $200,000 in the mayor’s campaign from what he calls big money — labor unions. He believes the labor unions may influence raises this year in their contracts.
“For us that’s a red flag, and we are very suspicious of whether or not we are actually going to get what’s promised,” Sims said. “Long Beach has such a huge pension debt… We have city employees who make considerably more than other city’s employees.”
In fact, campaign documents show more than $150,000 from the police and fire unions have financed the marketing of the proposal.
Garcia was not available for an interview for this article by the time of publication. Because this article was published online his deputy chief of staff, Daniel Brezenoff, was given an opportunity to respond to further questions, but chose not to do so.
The official argument in favor signed by the three mayors tells constituents:
“And remember, Long Beach voters have not increased general revenue to our city in 35 years! It’s time to invest in Long Beach.”
Sims said that is a stupid thing to say.
“That makes it sound like you feel that you are entitled, instead of taking accountability for what you did and what you didn’t do,” he said. “I know my solution is not to get people who mismanage money, more money to mismanage.”
Proponents said that a citizens’ advisory committee will oversee the revenue expenditures. The measure includes annual audits by an independent auditor.
Another argument against the measure is that it does not have any serious oversight. Opponents call the oversight committee “a fox-guarding-the-henhouse,” because the committee is mayor and council approved and it has no power to make changes.
Sims wanted other assurances. For 10 days, Sims asked each council member to pledge their salaries to charity if they ever voted for anything that was not promised. No one answered the pledge. However, Garcia said he would veto anything that the council members put forth anything that went against what he promised in Measure A.
The group said that what is suspicious about the measure is that the mayor is billing the tax as temporary. However, the measure’s impact will outlive the current council.
“The mayor is making a promise that he can’t keep, because when there is a new mayor or new city council members, they are no longer bound to the promise that the mayor is making to get voters to vote for Measure A,” Sims said. “That’s like making a promise for your unborn brother…. That defies logic.”
He said that the only way it could have been solved is if the dollars were allocated specifically for what they were for.
“Does it usually happen that politicians say what they are going to do?” asked Sims, rhetorically. “No…. The solution is very simple … that is, we have to live within our means. Bottom line.”
Publications such as the Gazettes Newspapers and the Press Telegram, which have endorsed the measure, have responded by calling into question the mistrust opponents have toward city officials.
“Still don’t trust them,” an Gazettes editorial also asks rhetorically. “Then why did you elect them? Didn’t you vote for them? Then elect someone else.”
But Sims makes the argument that voter turnout is not a reflection of trust in these officials.
“The last election, I think, about 17 percent of people showed up to vote,” Sims said. “That’s not a real vote of confidence for the councilmen who are being elected.”
Actually, the number of voters who turned out to vote during this past April’s council elections was more like 11.5 percent.
The accompanying proposal, Measure B, asks voters to establish a budget stabilization fund using one percent of new revenues to the general fund.
“The reason we don’t go after Measure B is because without Measure A, there is no measure B,” Sims said. “Measure B is kind of like a parasite onto Measure A.”
With strong financial backing, Measure A opponents acknowledge that there is a strong probability that the it will pass.
“What’s been exciting is that because of the opposition that we’ve posed, the mayor has been pushed to be more transparent,” Sims said. “For me this is a victory…. Long Beach government is not accustomed to very much resistance.”