Updated: Jan 20, 2022
On June 15, the Measure U Advisory Committee met for the first time since February to discuss the City of Sacramento's adopted FY20-21 budget. During the meeting, the committee again raised the need for participatory budgeting and had a dialogue with Mayor Steinberg about the budget.
Despite campaign promises to focus the additional 1/2 cent tax on inclusive economic development, homelessness and affordable housing, the adopted Measure U budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year dedicates roughly 51% to police and 24% to fire. Only 5% would be dedicated to inclusive economic development. No money was dedicated to affordable housing or homelessness.
The Committee received over 300 public comments in opposition to the City's proposed budget and the majority of committee members spoke passionately about their concern with the City’s budgeting process and lack of responsiveness of the Council.
Catch me up. What is Measure U?
Measure U is a 1 cent general tax on each dollar of taxable sales of goods within the city approved by voters in 2018. The original Measure U was a 1/2 cent sales tax passed by voters in 2012.
Why is this a social justice issue?
The additional half-cent tax was intended to address the issues of homelessness, affordable housing and inclusive economic development.
Tell me more about what was discussed at the meeting.
Item 4 - Financial Update and Adopted 2020-21 Budget
City staff provided an update on the City's finances and the adopted budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Some highlights included the following:
Despite the campaign promises to focus the additional 1/2 cent tax on inclusive economic development, homelessness and affordable housing, the adopted Measure U budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year dedicates roughly 51% to police and 24% to fire. Only 5% would be dedicated to inclusive economic development. And no money was dedicated to affordable housing or homelessness.
Total approved 2020-21 City budget is $1.3 billion; largely a status quo budget.
Loss of revenues from pandemic: $59.8 mill from lack of parking citations and meters, sales tax, and hotel tax receipts. Estimating $40 million loss over 2 years in Measure U funds. The City will have a better understanding of impact over the next few months.
Estimate of revenues for Measure U funds is now $80 million. This represents an estimated loss of $25 million in fiscal year 2021 from this fund. The City also projects a loss of $14.5 million from this fund for current fiscal year.
Item 5 - Participatory Budgeting
At its October 2019 meeting, the committee received a presentation on participatory budgeting and examples of how the process has been implemented in other communities. Participatory budgeting allows the community to take an active part in deciding how to spend part of a public budget - through hearings, citizen boards or councils, town halls, and engagement in the active process. The focus is on inclusion, seeking out grassroots leadership, and centers lived experiences.
Sacramento has not done any of its budgeting this way before. In a letter to the City Council on February 25, 2020, the committee recommended that a minimum of $5 million of Measure U Funds be set aside annually to fund a participatory budgeting process, fund priority programs and projects, and provide ongoing city staff support and technical assistance for participatory budgeting.
The Committee discussed the issue again at this meeting and set an action item for the next meeting to request the City Council adopt the $5 million set aside and commit city staff to help facilitate the planning and implementation of a program for Sacramento.
Item 6 - A conversation with Mayor Steinberg
Mayor Steinberg provided his perspective on the City's budget and the role of the Measure U Committee. According to Steinberg, as a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic the Council decided to shift Measure U funds to backfill other needs including increasing the share of police and fire expenditures stimulus money the City received from the federal CARES Act would fund investments in economic development and homelessness. He specifically committed to using the $89 million stimulus money as follows:
$20 million for small business recovery
$20 million for youth and workforce
$20 million for housing and homelessness
$20 million for tourism and creative economy
He said that half of these funds have already been spent and invited the committee to provide recommendations on the expenditure of the remaining funds that must be spent by the end of the year.
The Mayor's presentation was not particularly well-received by committee members nor those who called in for public comment. Community members expressed concerns with the lack of information provided to the committee prior to the City making allocation decisions, the lack of responsiveness to calls for additional community engagement, and the lack of movement towards decreasing the overall amount of money being spent on police and fire.
At one point Chairwoman Flojuane Cofer asked the Mayor if the City would be willing to bring the police union back to the bargaining table in response to the current economic emergency. He rejected that suggestion outright. Watch her impassioned plea to the Mayor to do better.
So what happens next?
Action items for the next meeting include requesting additional clarity from the City Council regarding the role of the Measure U Committee, hosting a workshop to look at the police and fire budget, and discussing possible engagement on CARES Act fund investments in Sacramento.