Ever since the Dick Lang administration of the 1990’s, Modesto City Government has been perpetually broke. Subsequent city leaders have had very little discretionary money with which to operate.
The present city council is considering whether to ask voters to approve a special sales tax within Modesto to alleviate ongoing budget shortfalls.
To decide whether approval of a new sales tax increase is warranted, voters need to understand how Modesto arrived at its present state of penury. Then, a government-wide evaluation of tax revenue streams is needed to determine whether to change course or add new revenue.
In the 1990’s, Modesto’s Dick Lang administration simultaneously built a convention center, a new police station, and half of the City-County Administration building. All three blockbuster expenditures were heavily financed; the city is still paying the mortgages.
Irresponsibly, Lang also heavily subsidized residential real estate developers, who paid insufficient infrastructure fees to cover their projects.
As a result of the Lang years, every subsequent city budget has been sucked dry to pay debt, build infrastructure not paid for by developers, and provide services at levels lower than delivered in the 1980’s.
View of the Present
In 2022, we have fewer police officers per capita, less frequent street sweeping, and less tree trimming service than in the 1980’s, before Lang. We also have more homelessness and an uglier environment.
Proposition 13 property tax limits are often blamed for service cutbacks, but that excuse paints an incomplete picture.
Looking at government-wide tax revenue streams, huge reservoirs of taxpayer money presently exist in the form of county budget surpluses but yield us no benefit. Money in the reservoirs is either not being spent, or is gradually diverted elsewhere because politicians who supposedly represent us aren’t.
When Stanislaus County has a budget surplus of over $250 million and city streets are full of mentally and physically disabled homeless people, the effect is double taxation. First, we’re taxed in dollars, then we’re taxed by an ever-declining quality of life that results in lost business and depreciated property values. Current proposals to reapportion city/county tax splits are too little and too late.
At the State of California level, tens of billions of dollars in this year’s surplus tax collections are being fumbled. The governor and legislature propose to give everyone a rebate to offset gasoline price gouging. Instead, they should send desperately needed funds to cities and investigate the gougers.
Our state representatives are either clueless Democrats or powerless and clueless Republicans. Given our need, one would expect much more than the breadcrumbs Modesto has received. The fact that city leaders need to consider a new sales tax on top of the recently passed road tax is a disgrace.
In Stanislaus County government, the performance of elected representatives is unsatisfactory. With the $250 million budget surplus, one would expect sharing of unused taxpayer funds with cash strapped municipalities. After all, the cities and county serve the same group of constituents!
County funds are being hoarded “for a rainy day” while the flood of local misery is ongoing and rising. Is county government doing all it can to promote a better quality of life now?
When I served on the City Council in 2003, politicians’ egos got in the way of good government. City and county leaders did not often work together cooperatively. How much cooperation and revenue sharing currently exists? Modesto talks about a sales tax increase while the state and county lounge in deep reservoirs of taxpayer money?
Since the beginning of the era of tight city budgets, the state and county have shirked their duty to provide health services. They have closed hospitals for the mentally ill. Public hospitals have been closed in favor of for profit institutions.
Dealing with the mentally ill was unwisely dumped on local police departments and cash strapped cities. Efforts are presently being made to improve the situation, but the existing reservoirs of unallocated taxpayer money indicate that more can be done before another tax increase is passed.
Modesto has been trying to craft and pay for homeless services, which was and still should be a responsibility of higher levels of government that have extra money. Modesto’s struggle is tragic and so unnecessary.
Citizens should use the ballot box to remove politicians sitting on taxpayer money. Past city and county leaders responsible for Modesto’s fiscal woes are out of office. Any current incumbents should be voted out. Voters should elect state and county leaders who will better manage and use taxpayers’ money.
Diane M Kroeze says
Look to the Ideology, beliefs of those in power over the years and decide why a surplus in the County reserves exists, yet the Cities are drowning in debt. Something as simple as a rule could block a lot. Communication probably plays a part. County Supervisors meet in the morning, where many people cannot go at that time. They are not very reachable.
TAxes created for GOOD reasons are necessary, but taxes created to make up for short sightedness is just giving it, TAXES, a bad name.
The City Police and Fire Dept. have taken over many “jobs’ because of the willingness of many to NOT spend money on a new Dept. designed for those “JOBS”. Easier to push the duties onto an existing group and then complain they aren’t doing well. The underfunded, understaffed and undertrained are easier targets for blame.
Lou Valero says
BRAVO, Bruce Frohman, SPOKEN AS A FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE VALLEY CITIZEN OUGHT TO SPEAK! Both thumbs down on raising taxes.
Unless, of course, Modesto CA, is willing to earmark THE NECESSARY sunset tax increase, IN ORDER TO DIVIDE THE PAID FOR IN FULL COMBINED COST, for each 100, or so, unit building, for HOUSING FIRST developments, AND, a separate ongoing yearly tax to cover the ongoing food, laundry, and other wrap around service costs, NECESSARY TO FINALLY HOUSE the majority of those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other anxieties, or behavioral ills, that human beings suffer from being unhoused for such extended lengths of time or suffered prior to being unhoused for any length of time.
C. Mills spoke of the Sociological Imagination, where we are all caught up together in life events we cannot escape. Let us all do our share to help alleviate the ongoing torture of those mentally ill.
Another California city working with HOUSING FIRST initiated a similar PILOT PROGRAM. Let’s put MODESTO, CA on the map for MODESTLY doing what is only right for those unhoused and untreated among us, WITHIN OUR VERY OWN LOCAL COMMUNITY. We can s
be an example to other cities as to how it can be done, WHEN ALL STEP FORWARD AND ALL MEAN RIGHTEOUS BUSINESS…
fast as zoning laws and low bid developers
Al Lucchesi says
Who should we Not vote for?
Why does the City keep the same development fees increase the fees
Renegotiate the debt of the city
john herlihy says
The city and county are bending over to the developers and smiling. They should be ashamed of themselves. I asked the mayor if she was embarrassed driving around Modesto and the condition of our streets. The streets get a Band-Aid and are turning into rubble. But the mayor certainly doesn’t think streets are an issue. The homeless issue is just appalling and there is nothing but psychobabble about doing something but as usual nothing gets done. Crime is rising but nothing is being done. Modesto is becoming a third world city.
Lou Valero says
Bravo, John Herlihy, I like your calling it exactly as it is. Ain’t nothing pure!!!
Why not set up a trade type school for plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, masons, etc. who apprentice while they obtain hands on skills and experience building eco-friendly housing for low or fixed income citizens, and thereafter move on to middle income friendly projects. Because they are gaining training, the costs could remain lowest, and not offend those who want increased wages even while the going is rough.
Something must give to lower prices down to what can be afforded, NOT continuing to try to live up to the Joneses. These are not those times. We need to be learn to live with less and learn to be content.
Let the outrageously expensive developers build for the rich in the outrageously expensive parts of CA, and save the less expensive local land for our own citizens who are doing there absolute best to survive on less, and:
We need to break up the symbiotic relationships of local government, who are, no doubt, in bed with over priced developers. Bah Humbug, Mayor, City Council, Supervisors, and the like. Get on up and out of your cozy sex dens! No one wants your kind around modest Modesto…
Kevin McClarty says
So Bruce if you are calling upon us not to vote for any incumbents, then who would you recommend we vote for in the Supervisorial race in which an incumbent City Council member is running against an incumbent member of the Board of Supervisors? (Supervisorial District 3).
Bruce Frohman says
Vote for the challenger. He did not cause the mess, so he deserves a chance to do something about it.
Or, would you rather re-elect someone sitting on a reservoir of taxpayer money.
Manuela Tobias, on April 22, 2022, reports in CALMATTERS, that: “with more government enforcement power than ever, they are relying on ACTIVISTS” to fight the good fight to make the new DUPLEX LAW happen on previously zoned single family residential property.
ACTIVISTS GET READY TO SUPPORT THIS NEW LAW ALLOWING MORE USEFUL HOUSING TO BE BUILT ON CA LAND.
Without its enforcement, less housing, and, more people without housing will remain THE ISSUE OF OUR HISTORY!!!
GET READY TO SUPPORT HOUSING FOR VERY LOW OR NO INCOME CITIZENS ON THESE ZONED FOR SINGLE RESIDENTIAL HOUSING PROPERTIES. Selfish people want all the land grabbed up for only themselves, while writing others off, to perpetually live unhoused on the streets.
DO NOT RESIST! It is now or never, VALLEY CITIZENS, the law has been changed, ACT ON IT! This is opportunity to house the unhoused and save those existing on the edge.
IF WE MISS TAKING THIS PROACTIVE “GOODWILL” STAND, TO END OUR COMMUNITY HOUSING SHORTAGE, FOR VERY LOW TO MEDIUM INCOME INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES, WE WILL FOREVER BE PLAGUED WITH KNOWING WE STOOD IDLY BY WHILE PEOPLE EXISTED AND DIED ON THE STREETS.
damon woods says
Well, now we have something we agree on. Over taxed people, and Government wanting to keep raising taxes rather than hunker down and figure out why they are overspending. Run a government like a business and it will be better off. The City should have a forensic audit- that reviews all spending and compares it to a model city that isn’t awash in debt= then make adjustments- like pay cuts for bloated salaries, lay offs for beauracrats who produce reports no one reads. Streamline- the days of having a secretary and admin assistant are long gone. It is high time government stops feeding at the public trough and becomes efficient.
Eric Caine says
Damon: I disagree on a couple of your points. (1) I’m in favor of progressive tax rates. Since the “trickledown” hysteria, most of us have been punished by regressive tax rates. Middle and lower middle class tax rates, as shares of income, are higher than those on corporations and the ultra-rich. We need a return to fair taxation so that corporations and the ultra-rich pay their fair share. (2) Government is not a business. For example, business is always reducing costs. Sick people, disabled people, and people in need of help are “costs,” but we should not ignore their needs. When we do so, we pay in the form of homeless people in the streets, higher health care premiums, and depreciation of our assets, including businesses and homes due to reduced quality of life and urban blight. Rather, we should use economies of scale so that resources are available to help them. Those resources are readily available via fair tax schedules.
Bruce Frohman says
When I pay taxes, I expect them to be spent to deliver services, not sit in a bank somewhere while a politician boasts about how much money he controls.
An elected person is supposed to determine the needs of his constituents and optimize benefit from the revenue raised. Not everyone agrees that assistance should be provided to the homeless, but a strong majority of citizens do.
Our tax money supports four levels of government: the fed, the state, the county, and the city. When responsibilities overlap, revenues should be shared. Government is big because the population is large.
The taxpayers are not well served when the different levels of government function as independent fiefdoms. If the county does not want to share, it should assume greater responsibility to provide the service that it has the means to provide. Or, it can pay off local government debts so that the cities again have means to accomplish their mission.
Citizens are frustrated because they know government can do better but won’t.
“Irresponsibly, Lang also heavily subsidized residential real estate developers, who paid insufficient infrastructure fees to cover their projects.”
Some folks say we should round them up under criminal conspiracy charges as was done sadly to anti-war protesters. At least give them some time in the slam waiting for bail.
if you don’t have the political guts to do it from your office ,
set up a gold ribbon committee or grand jury to recommend it….
Theresa Grieshaber says
And why do you think Lang kowtowed to developers? Could it be that the real estate industry pays for political campaigns? Also, many people think that Prop 13 is wonderful. They don’t realize its hidden costs. My neighbors bought their house a short time ago. It’s worth about the same as mine, which we bought 30 years ago. The City of Modesto spends about the same amount of money each year to provide public services—police, fire, sewers, etc to both homes. Yet the City hasn’t gotten a meaningful pay raise from my husband and me— in 3 decades. Two percent a year based on my original sales price is way below the City’s actual costs during that time. So the only way that Lang or anybody could get money was to A) Get new homes built that would produce new property taxes , B) Borrow C ) Have voters OK by 2/3 majority a sales or property tax.
The result statewide since 1978 has been deteriorating public services, higher taxes on poor and middle income people, homelessness caused by developers erecting too costly single family homes, large firms evading their taxes , and sprawl.
Eric Caine says
Brilliantly summarized Theresa. Prop 13 was a regressive tax scheme from the beginning and more people understood it when it was proposed than understand it now. It was flogged in the media and presented as a way to save old folks from punitive taxation. There was a need to do that, but there were better ways than 13.