When Sacramento City Council members are scrounging for every last dollar to add more cops and firefighters, grabbing more money for their own pet project accounts is plain wrong.
It makes them look like hypocrites as they seek concessions from the police union, preach frugality to city departments and praise the sacrifice of city voters who approved a half-cent sales tax hike.
In the 2013-14 budget up for adoption Tuesday, the council is looking at taking $391,500 of the $575,475 in rent from the 27 cellphone towers on city property.
That amount $43,500 each for the mayor and council members would be on top of $55,000 each they already have at their disposal.
In the scheme of things, it's not a huge amount of money. Symbolically, it is a big problem.
At their budget hearing this past Tuesday night, council members also moved toward spending $826,000 more in Measure U sales tax proceeds to restore a fire company a year earlier and $604,000 more to add 15 more police officers. The council pontificated at length about keeping faith with voters and keeping residents safe while still being fiscally prudent. How is beefing up their discretionary funds in any way consistent with that message?
Council members did the right thing two years ago by putting the cell tower revenue into the general fund through 2013-14. The city's budget outlook certainly hasn't brightened enough to justify reneging on that commitment. City Manager John Shirey and his staff clearly recommended against shifting the money, saying that it is still needed to balance the books and build the rainy day fund.
Many of the youth programs and such funded from the discretionary accounts are worthy; council members argue that the less affluent districts have few other sources of cash. But council members have been known to spend the money to curry favor with influential community groups, or on questionable projects. As the watchdog group Eye on Sacramento points out, these accounts do have the appearance of slush funds, without the public input and disclosure we should expect.
Just when you start to think council members are being responsible and disciplined about the budget, they consider doing something like this. It's not too late to back off. Before Tuesday, their constituents should give them a tart and timely reminder of the price they'll pay if they persist.