In recent years, the Anaheim City Council has been dominated by a single narrative: Mayor Tom Tait’s struggle to contain the Council Majority’s out-of-control spending. The city’s different components (police, fire, utilities, etc.) all turn at the direction of a four (out of five) member voting bloc. This Majority’s narrow agenda revolves around the spending priorities of government employees and the subsidy demands (corporate welfare) of elite business interests. Average taxpayers have been reduced to a single voice in Mayor Tait.
The spending habits of the Council Majority have become particularly alarming in light of two major deals currently on the table: 1) the leasing agreement with Angels’ baseball owner Arte Moreno, and 2) the publicly financed (seventh) expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center.
In the former, the Council Majority is attempting to give away the city’s biggest asset and source of future revenue. In an agreement signed last year, but not yet finalized, the Majority voted to drop “Anaheim” from the Angels’ name and gave billionaire Arte Moreno the development rights to the land surrounding the stadium. Worth just short of a billon dollars to taxpayers, the Majority is pushing for terms allowing Moreno to pay a mere 1$ a year for 66 years. Last week, the Council Majority refused to make public an appraisal, requested by Mayor Tait, that would have shed light on what the agreement is to cost taxpayers.
The second deal of major consequence is up for discussion -again- this week. The Council Majority first voted for the project, which included a 200,000 square-foot glass structure, in March and construction was set to begin in June. In the intervening spring, a lawsuit was filed by the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility that alleges the city did not have the authority to acquire the accompanying debt without a city-wide vote. As a result, the principle bank underwriting the 300 million in bonds backed-out because, according to the city, it was “not willing to accept the litigation risk.”
Last week, the city announced it had found another investor, with an added cost of 10 million dollars, and the project is up for a second vote this Tuesday night. Opposing the deal from the beginning, Mayor Tait said: “If the people of Anaheim are going to take on that kind of debt for this expansion, they should at least be able to vote on it in November because this is an extremely expensive price to pay for the amount of square footage that we get.”
With all the financial uncertainty this summer, it would be reasonable to expect some fiscal restraint. The coming election in November, one would think, would also encourage a show of cautious spending. No such luck for Anaheim taxpayers; just this summer, the Majority has senselessly spearheaded numerous new spending ventures. Among them, three stand-out as emblematic for the reckless spending priorities of the Council Majority.
In June, the Council Majority pushed through an “economic assistance program” for automobile dealers. Cities typically keep one percent of a vehicle’s value in a sales tax, but under the new program, new dealers will receive a forty percent rebate for up to a decade. Existing dealerships are eligible, subject to a board’s approval, but only if they have profited from an expansion of car capacity. The potential negative effect on the budget is serious as the tax amounts to around five million in annual revenue. In addition to budget concerns, Mayor Tait opposed, what is a typical corporate welfare scheme, because it created an “uneven playing field.” Any old dealer unable to expand will see their prices undercut by competitors who offer the same products but with forty percent less in added tax.
More recently, the Majority (Mayor in dissent, of course) committed one million dollars to keep a museum open and empty until 2020. Funding for ‘the arts’ may be justifiable, but “Muzeo” is seeing dismal and worsening attendance figures. The venue mainly serves as a fancy place for city elites to have parties at the public’s expense. The numbers did not concern Councilwoman Kris Murray, arguably the leader (and/or fall-person) for the Council Majority. She argued, “I think it’s important that you don’t judge the arts by their profitability… it’s something you just can’t put a price tag on.”
To the contrary, the museum opened with a one million dollar “credit line” taken from the city’s general fund. Far from being paid back, the city has provided more money every year, for example, $200,000 annually between 2010-14. Without any oversight attached to the latest increase in funding, don’t expect a rise in attendance at Muzeo, which despite the millions spent to date, has assets worth a mere $131,531.
The Council Majority’s authority rests on elite business interests (beneficiaries of the corporate welfare exemplified above) and public employee labor unions. Despite the vast sums of money available from such a clique, few are as crucial to the Majority’s political survival as the Anaheim Police Association. It should come as no surprise then that Majority leader Murray has recently called for a significant increase in the city’s police budget. She maintains that “recent violence starkly underscores” the need for additional spending. Said “violence” was a reference to a police K-9 that was seriously injured when it engaged a fleeing suspect. I will leave it to the reader to ponder how an injured dog “starkly underscores” the increase in the budget.
Months later, Councilwoman Murray again found herself so moved by the K-9’s sacrifice for “Anaheim families” that she proposed building TWO dog parks to memorialize all police K-9s in Anaheim. At the center of BOTH parks, there will stand a bronze sculpture depicting a German Shepard ($40,000 each). To fully understand the bizarre and dark move to build these monuments, I would suggest reading some recent history over at Moxley Confidential.
Initially, Murray assured the public that the project would be privately financed, but the public (and Mayor) was caught off-guard when the Council Majority pushed through another so-called “credit line” for $25,000. Murray argued that said funding had to be made available right away so the selected artist, a renowned sculptor, could start the design. Needless to say, no reason was given as to why the dogs so urgently need the monuments. The Councilwoman assured the public that the project would, ultimately, be funded by private donors. As an example of such a financing scheme, she could have pointed to… Muzeo.