Executive Summary: The story of Proposition 406 identifies John Sentz as the candidate who ignores citizens input and pushed higher taxes during a recession. It also shows how candidates Jared Taylor and Jenn Daniels listen and fight for fiscal responsibility.
Until last year, Gilbert budget planners projected multimillion dollar deficits every year for over 10 years. Magically, the Town ended either with a surplus or very small deficit each year. Still, every year, some of our elected officials made the case to raise some sort of tax, whether it was a property tax, sales tax, or use tax.
Taking a moment to reflect on the history of Gilbert’s budgeting has great importance in our current election.
In 2009, the budget was presented as a major crisis with a $15 million shortfall. In the midst of the worst economy in 40 years, the majority of the Town Council passed three tax increases on Gilbert citizens. Only after petitions were submitted to refer the taxes to the ballot were the taxes quickly rescinded.
To gather ideas on how to close the budget deficit, the Council called a Citizens Budget Committee to carefully study the budget and submit ideas. In a few weeks, citizens found upwards of $20 million of revenue generating and cost cutting ideas (Source: Town Documents). John Sentz and the majority of the Town Council used a few of the ideas that saved close to $6 million, but ignored the most significant ideas.
Instead of implementing additional ideas from the citizens, Sentz and other pro-tax councilmembers decided to spend the money and ask voters to raise the sales tax to close the gap. The Council majority labeled it a “dedicated sales tax for public safety.” The citizens on the budget committee rejected this type of sales tax as unwise and the idea to call it a dedicated sales tax. Citizens thought it was not prudent to raise taxes on products during such rough economic times, especially since tax revenues will automatically increase during a good economy. The council majority voted to send the tax increase to the ballot, knowing at the time that the election itself could cost taxpayers $250,000.
During the election, arguments on both sides were made. On the pro-tax side, four members of the Town Council–including John Sentz—stated that “Gilbert is faced with the reality of having to dramatically cut the level of service in our public safety,” and the Gilbert Police and Fire Departments claimed that 65 police personnel and 29 fire personnel could be laid off if the sales tax increase did not pass (Source: Town Documents and May 18, 2010 Publicity Pamphlet).
The Gilbert police and fire unions ginned up the public with dire predictions as well. “We don’t know where else to cut. Ultimately, the citizens will have to pay the price,” stated Jim Krauger, president of the Gilbert Police Leadership Association, which represents the department’s officers. “We aren’t using this as scare tactics.” (Source: AZ Central, “May Vote Could Affect Public Safety, Gilbert Police, Fire Unions Warn,” 4/23/2010, Nathan Gonzalez.)
The “No on 406” campaign argued that the money to close the gap existed without the need for anyone to be laid off. Like many citizens on the budget committee, they used their business and life experience to find ways to cut and reduce. Many in the community that had lost their jobs expected government to do the same.
In the end, the voters in Gilbert rejected the arguments of the Town Council and Town Staff by overwhelmingly defeating the proposition.
After Proposition 406 was defeated, the Town Council reluctantly found a number of ways to close the deficit. Even before the election, the Town staff reported a slight surplus in the actual budget, and this trend continued through the rest of the fiscal year.
Just as it did for the last decade, the Town did not run a deficit and not one public safety officer was laid off or had to take a reduction in their compensation.
Since this experience, many Gilbert citizens have been highly skeptical of the budget planners and Town Council who failed to reign in their sloppy work. The citizens who opposed the tax increase are educated people who manage large budgets or who run small businesses and have struggled through the recession. Gilbert citizens see through budget gimmicks and excuses and doubt the wisdom and judgment of Councilmembers like John Sentz who pushed taxes on struggling Gilbert families.
So what can we learn from this? How can we translate this experience into action as we are voting for two seats on the Town Council?
George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Here are a number of key lessons from this case study.
- John Sentz failed in his duty to represent Gilbert citizens. This point is critical to understand. In a stable republic, elected officials represent the people who elect them. The unions aggressively encouraged the passage of the sales tax increase. Town staff also promoted its passage. Citizens did not. Only Mayor John Lewis and Councilmember Jenn Daniels listened to the citizens and respected their interests.
- Experience doesn’t necessarily mean wisdom, judgment, or prudence. Sentz and the other incumbents had been on the council for a combined 36 years. They boasted of their business experience. Yet, there was no evidence that they used all this experience to cut waste as they willfully ignored the input of citizens. Further, all this tenure didn’t fix the budgeting process which produced multimillion dollar deficits every year.
- Sentz does not put public safety first in the budget. The nature of budgeting requires priorities. Although the money was available, the incumbents paid lip service to public safety first, but funded it last. There never was a need to fire 96 public safety personnel. Sentz and the former incumbents would have used the sales tax increase to fund pet projects, not public safety. (Ironically, the unions are endorsing him again even though he failed to fund their departments first).
- John Sentz solves deficits by raising taxes; citizens would rather reduce government spending. While Gilbert families struggled with lost businesses or jobs, Sentz voted to raise taxes and add two new taxes on the backs of Gilbert families. Citizens strongly disagreed. I submitted a number of ways to cut spending while keeping our quality of life high. Sentz and others flatly ignored them.
- When asked, citizens will find ways to reduce spending. The Town Council selected a wide range of citizens. The Town staff worked very hard to provide information and analysis. By and large, the citizen’s budget committee returned ways to cut spending. Sentz was not aligned with Gilbert families.
- John Sentz and the other incumbents did not listen to citizens. Although clearly communicated by the Citizens Budget Committee, the suggestions were met with a deaf ear.
- Qualified assistance turned down. One citizen offered a full year of free consulting to implement the citizens’ ideas. This person had worked for over 30 years in global corporations dealing with budgets larger than the Town of Gilbert. His offer was ignored by the Council.
John Sentz is running for re-election as well as John Lewis and Jenn Daniels. Both Mayor Lewis and Councilmember Daniels listened to citizens and strongly opposed the misguided proposition. Councilmembers Victor Petersen, Eddie Cook, and Jordan Ray also opposed the tax increase.
During this time, I actively fought against the tax increase. I participated as a resident in the citizen budget committee process and submitted many ideas. Further, I did extensive research on the budget and found out for myself that the deficit only existed in theory, not in reality.
As we approach this election, it’s vital we elect individuals who will listen and represent Gilbert citizens. Further, our elected officials should be trusted to do their homework and come to wise and sound conclusions. We need people to represent us, not big government and big labor unions.
Why does Proposition 406 matter? It matters because fiscal priorities and wise budget decisions drive almost all other decisions in the Town. Gilbert needs leaders who are judicious, inquisitive, and prudent with taxpayer money. This piece of Gilbert history clearly identifies those leaders: Lewis, Daniels, Cook, Petersen, and Ray. We are lucky to have them on the Town Council.
I stand for a smaller more responsible government. Public safety should be funded with our first dollars, not our last. We should not hold our police and firemen hostage for unnecessary tax increases. Public officials should represent the citizens and have a listening ear. If elected, I promise to represent the citizens by having a more responsible government and ask for your vote on 28 August 2012.