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Feb 20

Where’s LBJ When You Need Him?

Comments (0) 12:00 AM posted by admin |

I usually don’t print much of my fan mail, but in light of the looming financial disaster here in Ypsilanti, Michigan, I’ve decided to acquiesce just this once.

Okay smartass, if you were named mayor, what’s the first thing you’d do to fix this mess?

Well Mom, if you must know, the very first thing I’d do is get new business cards.

The myth floating around these days is that an income tax will solve our problems. It won’t. It’s not as simple as being able to say as a community we’re going to suck it up or take one for the team and pass an income tax. An income tax and the shared burden of saving our city may sound Great Society-esque, but the mathematics of an income tax righting or even just helping with Ypsilanti’s problems don’t add up. It’s not my math. It’s the math being produced by City officials. Even with an income tax, the City is projecting us falling back into the red by 2014.

I’m not against paying more taxes. You could try and make the argument that during the Bush-Cheney era, the Federal Government has probably cut taxes for me so much that what I currently save each year will go towards the fabled Ypsilanti income tax and it will be a zero-sum gain in 1999 dollars. Maybe you think the money I’m saving each year in federal taxes was going towards funding states. Okay. That’s cool. I’m with you so far. So what’s your point?

The mathematics have to work for any income tax to make sense. As it stands today (according to the City’s Budget), they don’t. Even if you felt you could give more to keep Ypsi afloat, the money won’t fix everything. We would still need deep cuts to get by. People are ignoring that in the solvency argument. It’s not between taxes or deep cuts. It’s down to taxes AND deep cuts. If you thought an income tax would help preserve your quality of life, you’re wrong. An income tax will only help your quality of life from circling the bowl for only a few years. If the State hasn’t corrected the structural deficit by then (and there’s no reason to assume they will), the City will be welcoming an Emergency Financial Manager to town around 2015.

That brings the question, is it better to fail now than fail later?

By failing now, we force the State to sit up and take notice. If the whole purpose of visible cuts is to make citizens sit up and take notice, isn’t that what we want the State to do? If that’s the kind of logic the City is going to use, why aren’t they beating the drum for receivership? No one is paying attention to Ypsilanti. We need to light a fire under somebody. It was reported that Ann Arbor’s Mayor John Hieftje told his public policy class last semester that Ypsilanti’s going under WOULD be noticed at the State level. The State would be more likely to work on correcting the problem should Ypsi go into receivership than they were when Flint, Hamtramck, or Highland Park were taken over.

If we get caught up in our hubris and think we can move forward and fix this on our own, we still have to find $462K in the FY 06/07 budget. Where’s that going to come from? The busing issue has become the poster child for Ypsi’s problems. If we don’t cut that $170K, where does the money come from now? It’s possible the City will sell the Historical Museum on North Huron Street to the Historical Society for $350K. That would go a long way in solving any financial problem this year. Ed Koryzno would only have to come up with $112K to balance the books. Eliminating the DDA subsidy ($12.5K), increasing festival fees ($17.5K), getting the County to do our payroll ($19K), eliminating Council compensation ($45K), and eliminating the 50% of the HR Director’s position ($39K) gets us into the black by $21K.

The FY 07/08 deficit of $707K could be made up by an income tax. The City could keep banking cash if they had more stately Victorians to sell to more historical societies. We could buy a new ladder truck for the Fire Department. We could replace police cars that have been in service too long. We could bring back the Recreation Department. We could just go nuts.

But this period of euphoria would only last until 2013 or 2014 when we’d be back to debating over the side effects of cutting the bus subsidy, ordinance enforcement, the police and fire departments, public works, the clerk’s office. And by this point in time, we’ll be saddled with an income tax that won’t provide the benefits it was supposed to provide the first time around.

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