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Don’t let the city mess up Measure U money. You voted for it, you get it.

Hear Mayor Darrell Steinberg talk about what he’ll do with the money that comes from Measure U

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg talks to the Bee reporter Theresa Clift about Measure U at an election night party at Urban Roots in Sacramento on Nov. 6, 2018.
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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg talks to the Bee reporter Theresa Clift about Measure U at an election night party at Urban Roots in Sacramento on Nov. 6, 2018.

Don’t tell me, or anyone else, that Measure U – the 1-cent sales tax increase that Sacramento voters approved last fall – will go solely to fund the pensions of city cops and firefighters.

That’s not why I voted “yes” on Measure U and advocated for it in this space. Who would have voluntarily agreed to raise the city sales tax rate up to 8.75 percent if that increase got swallowed whole by pension obligations?

No one. Certainly no one I know. Measure U passed by 57 percent because it was sold to Sacramento as a way for residents to invest in their city.

City Manager Howard Chan’s proposed budget revealed this week projected revenue for the four years after the 2019-20 fiscal year, and included Measure U money, which must go into the general fund .

This is also the pot that pays for, yes, pensions.

Measure U money will account for $97 million in revenue in fiscal year 2019-20 and will surge to nearly $107 million by 2023-24. But the forecast for CalPERS calls for big spikes in pension obligations for Sacramento – from $79 million in the current fiscal year to $131 million by 2025. They will level off after that, but you get the picture.

It sounds like a tough nut to crack for city elected officials and bureaucrats, right? Yeah, too bad.

Remember, that the approval of Measure U was last fall was two-fold: It continued that half-cent sales tax that Sacramentans had previously approved to replenish city coffers to have more cops on the streets.

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But voters in 2018 didn’t stop there. They approved an additional half cent so that “Sacramento could dream.”

Who said those words early and often? Mayor Darrell Steinberg. Who was the chief salesman of Measure U in 2018? Mayor Darrell Steinberg. Who talked his reluctant council colleagues in going after a 1-cent sales tax that some, such as councilman Jeff Harris, thought was too risky?

Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Steinberg linked Measure U to his message of economic equality. He spoke passionately about Sacramento neighborhoods that have been overlooked economically for generations: Oak Park, Meadowview, Del Paso Heights, North Franklin Blvd, Stockton Blvd, Mack Road.

These are the areas with the highest poverty rates, highest crime rates, lowest median income rates. These are the neighborhoods where streets are not walkable. Where bus stops are not plentiful enough. Where childcare is too scarce. Where city schools are the poorest and where students often don’t get to go on cool trips to Washington, D.C ., because their parents can’t bankroll the trips.

I voted for Measure U because I want my city to lift those neighborhoods. I want my city to bring investment to those neighborhoods so that kids in in those neighborhoods can find jobs.

So don’t tell me about pensions. I don’t want to hear it. No one wants to hear it. What we want is what we voted for: Investment in Sacramento. What we don’t want is elected officials who have nothing more to say than “we have to honor our obligations to our employees.”

You know what? If that is the only thing you have to say, then go run for office in Dixon. Because if by June 11, when the city adopts its budget for next year, if the aspirations that drove the Measure U vote are ignored, then the politicians and bureaucrats who made that happen are going to have to answer for themselves.

At the first city budget meeting on Tuesday, Steinberg made his pitch again – for the first time in front of a majority of the council. It was a fascinating discussion. Some council members seemed to have doubts about why people approved Measure U. Others seemed to put employees over everything else. And others seemed to put their politics above the will of voters.

But that’s OK. It’s still early. It’s not June 11 yet. But these next six weeks are going to be pivotal for the near future of the state capital. These next six weeks will say a great deal about the values of our city. And they will be a test case of whether politicians voted to the council actually deserve to be there.

These next six weeks will say a lot about our values as a community. Measure U funds can lift the city, particularly parts of the city that finally – as councilman Rick Jennings said – deserve to have their day.

The next budget meeting is at 5 p.m. May 14. Show up. Call your council representatives. Insist that they figure it out. Don’t let them tell you that it’s hard to deal with cops and firelighters, or that public safety employees have an advantage in city negotiations because they can get what they want through binding arbitration.

Even Harris, no fan of Golden 1 Center, had to acknowledge at Tuesday’s budget hearing that city tax rolls are up and G1C played a big role in that. When cities think big and invest in themselves, good things happen.

So here we go, Sacramento. We can’t let the elected officials mess this up. We voted for Measure U to better our community. Don’t let the politicians chicken out on that promise.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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