Fresno mayoral candidate H. Spees on Monday said he plans to push a statewide ballot initiative as a way to generate more money for understaffed law enforcement departments, not just locally but for cities and counties across California.
Under Spees’ proposed ballot initiative, the state would be required to return 5 percent of income tax revenue to local governments. Currently, some sales and property taxes are returned to local governments, but not income tax. Under Spees’ proposal, that income tax money could only be spent on public safety.
In Fresno, Spees said, that could mean $42 million annually, which could translate into as many as 200 additional police officers.
We’re going to talk about a game-changing solution for public safety funding.
Fresno mayoral candidate H. Spees
“We’re going to talk about a game-changing solution for public safety funding,” Spees said at a news conference in front of City Hall.
In addressing public safety, Spees touched on one of the top issues in the Fresno mayor’s race, where five candidates are seeking to replace Ashley Swearengin, who is termed out at the end of the year.
It’s a question at every campaign forum and a regular talking point for the candidates – Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand, Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim, as well as Spees. The fifth candidate is Richard Renteria.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer has said violent crime was up 16 percent last year in the city and is up 31 percent so far this year. Spees said it appears the city is returning to the dangerous days of the early 1990s, when crime seemingly was out of control.
But Brand, who has his own plan to boost public safety resources, said Spees’ proposal is unrealistic because it is both expensive and politically challenging to win statewide approval for a ballot measure – especially one that proposes to take money away from Sacramento, a plan sure to garner formidable opposition.
“This is a pie-in-the-sky deal that is dead on arrival,” Brand said.
Vagim agreed, saying it would be “almost an impossibility” to win approval. On top of that, Vagim said Fresno would be a net loser to the Bay Area and Los Angeles if the funds were awarded on a per capita basis. He also said the money would have to come from schools, which poses an entire new set of challenges.
Enlisting Autry’s help
Spees acknowledged the political hurdles, but said it can be done. To help, he has enlisted former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry as his point man. Autry has endorsed Spees for mayor.
Why Autry? He has waged the battle before, Spees said. In 2004, Autry teamed with then-Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn to lead an effort to prevent the state from raiding local funds. The resulting ballot initiative – Proposition 1A – was approved by voters in November 2004. That success can be replicated, Autry said.
Both Spees and Autry said what is currently happening is a perfect storm. Violent crime is up at a time when the police force is trying to recover from being “slashed to the bone during the recession,” Spees said.
At the same time, he said, state prison realignment shifted the incarceration and supervision of nonviolent, non-sex-offending criminals from the state to counties, and Proposition 47 was approved, which reclassified some property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
But Autry said no additional state money accompanied those changes. When it all is added up, Spees said the state currently gets 92 percent of all tax revenue and local governments only get 8 percent to provide services.
Spees also said that, win or lose in the mayor’s race, he will continue to push the ballot initiative. Autry said he would, too.
“This is an issue that is bigger than me, and it should be bigger than politics,” he said.
Other possible solutions
Brand and Perea both agree there is a problem. Both also have different solutions than Spees.
This is a pie-in-the-sky deal that is dead on arrival.
Fresno mayoral candidate Lee Brand
Perea said his first move right after taking office would be a “top-down assessment of all city resources.”
Within the Police Department he would reassign at least 50 officers not in uniform back into the patrol division. He also would look at all other city services, including outside contracts, with the goal of bringing additional money back into the department.
Looking further ahead, Perea said he would work on increasing economic activity by strengthening local business and attracting new businesses, which would increase revenues to the city.
The second part of Perea’s idea sounds much like Brand’s.
Brand said he would work to grow the local economy, with a goal toward permanently reducing the local unemployment rate below 10 percent. More jobs mean more consumers pouring money into the economy, which would generate more tax revenue – possibly adding $20 million to $25 million annually to the city coffers.
“We’re not waiting for Sacramento to give us a bone,” Brand said.
Brand also favors selling off excess city properties and then putting proceeds from those sales into an annuity, which would generate annual interest and make it an ongoing revenue source. On a presumed 5 percent return rate over 10 years, it would generate $3 million annually for the city, Brand said.
Another idea is leasing public rights-of-way to billboard companies. This might be along walking paths such as the Sugar Pine Trail that parallel major roads such as Willow Avenue, or Al Radka Park, which abuts Highway 180. Brand said that could generate $500,000 to $1 million annually.
Vagim said his solution to more funding for public safety would be to explore the consolidation of Fresno city and county law enforcement on ancillary services such as dispatch.
All the major candidates are also now on record as opposing a public safety tax, which has been rumored as a possible solution to the public safety funding issue.