By Tracey A. Thompson
Published in the Tacoma News Tribune
October 10, 2012
In proposing massive cuts to critical public services and the elimination of 217 jobs over the next two years, Tacoma’s new city manager is taking the wrong approach to solving the city’s longstanding budget crisis.
Instead of seeking to develop more measured, long-term solutions that will help balance the budget, save jobs and maintain vital services, T.C. Broadnax wants to solve the city’s colossal structural problem overnight.
It is understandable that Broadnax might want to gain control of the situation. After all, Tacoma officials have known about the fiscal train wreck for years, yet they have been unwilling to make the hard choices that would put the city back on track.
The problem is that most of the city manager’s proposals are far too radical and would have a devastating impact on the local economy and the city’s infrastructure.
The loss of more than 200 local jobs would weaken a fragile economy struggling to recover. It would push more Pierce County families toward the brink of bankruptcy and foreclosure, and it would further drain city coffers by adversely impacting municipal revenue streams.
Perhaps the greatest impact on city residents would be felt in the loss of vital services.
The workers whose jobs are at risk make indispensable contributions to our communities. They help keep us safe, and they improve our quality of life by plowing our roads, maintaining our streets and providing library programs for our children.
In a recent survey, Tacoma voters identified basic street maintenance as their top priority; yet proposed cuts would cripple the city’s ability to maintain and keep roads safe during snow emergencies.
Cities without safe streets, decent libraries and functioning public works departments are the ones that wind up on those notorious top 10 lists of most unlivable in the country. That may well be where Tacoma is headed unless corrective action is taken now.
To find a viable solution to the problem, it is useful to understand the root cause of the crisis. The city’s budget mess has little to do with worker salaries and benefits, which are on par with those of other comparable municipal and private-sector employees across the country.
Instead, the city has a structural problem: Revenues have steadily decreased over time due to misguided ballot initiatives and inaction on the part of the Legislature. That trend needs to be reversed. Meanwhile, the demand for services has continued to increase.
In the last decade, Tacoma has taken great strides to improve the quality of life for its residents. It has developed a healthy port, restored its historic waterfront district and revitalized many city neighborhoods.
The question before the mayor, the council and indeed the voters is simple: Do we want to invest in our city, build a strong economy with good, middle-class jobs, safe neighborhoods, and vibrant civic and cultural institutions, or do we want to see more potholes and more crime as we let our city crumble and fall apart?
What kind of city do we want to become?