Gilbert council sidesteps tough choices - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

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Gilbert council sidesteps tough choices

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Posted: Friday, August 14, 2009 2:59 pm

Mike McClellan: Gilbert's budget problems have been a mini-version of what's been going on at the state Capitol. The difference, of course, was that the Gilbert Town Council and town staff had been able to reach decisions. Until Tuesday night.

For the last eight months, we've been treated to the Gang That Couldn't Legislate Straight. A Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature unable to do much of anything except waste each other's time and our money in a constant dither about the state budget. Heads have rolled, tempers have flared, and nothing's been done. Talk of a temporary tax has left some legislators apoplectic, unable to even mutter the word "tax."

And so, after eight months of back and forth, some horse trading, and a lot of dead time, the Legislature has ... nothing.

Gilbert's budget problems have been a mini-version of what's been going on at the state Capitol. The difference, of course, was that the Gilbert Town Council and town staff had been able to reach decisions, make cuts, and even - gasp! - call for a temporary sales tax to tide the town over until our economy picks up again.

Until Tuesday night. When politics appeared to have won over governing. When it seemed that the council abruptly reversed itself and came to be more like the state Legislature.

A group wanted to put the council's decision to a vote of the people, outraged that the council would raise taxes now. They showed up this week at a council meeting to voice their displeasure with the council's decision. Many spoke to the Council, almost all of whom were passionate in their arguments. Passionate, but civil. Good for them.

And they made good arguments - we're all hurting right now, government has to learn to live with less, there must be more to cut. So the council, after hearing from citizens for over an hour, reversed itself and unanimously voted to rescind all the new taxes they had created.

Maybe the majority who had voted for the taxes originally just had a change of heart. Or maybe their own political lives were at risk and they exercised a little self-preservation, though if that was their motivation, they are fooling themselves. You just know the anti-tax crowd will have those council members in their sights during the next election.

Having taken this action, though, the council put a $23 million hole in the budget over the next two years for the town. And the council went with the anti-tax crowd, which argued that there has to be more to cut from the existing budgets.

We'll see. Some at the meeting suggested raising the fees for parks and recreation programs. Another suggested an across-the-board salary cut for managers and supervisors. Of course, those suggestions only put a dent in the $23 million.

And so, like the state Legislature, the Town Council is back at square one - with no way to fix the budget deficit.

I guess it comes back to the citizens' committees the council is forming. While such groups sound like a good idea, they also smell of passing the buck, of council members not making the hard decisions they must about the budget.

The decisions we elected them to make.

Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident.

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