Eye on Sacramento Statement on the Use of City’s Cell Tower/Electronic Billboard Revenues

For Immediate Release

Time/Date: 1:30 p.m., June 5, 2013
Contact: Craig Powell, EOS President
Contact Info: Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Eye on Sacramento Statement on the Use of City’s Cell Tower/Electronic Billboard Revenues

Council Members Should Not Pump Up Their Own “Slush Funds”

Two years ago, Eye on Sacramento asked the Sacramento city council to shift revenues the city receives from cell phone towers and electronic billboards from council members’ discretionary spending accounts to the city’s general fund and the council, to its great credit, unanimously agreed to do so.

Some members of the city council are now considering reversing that policy by putting cell tower/billboard revenues back into their individual discretionary spending accounts. We strongly oppose such a move and continue to support the current practice of appropriating cell tower/billboard revenues through the city’s normal budget process for the benefit of all city taxpayers and residents.

Each council member already has the discretionary authority to spend almost $50,000 annually any way they choose. The proposed reallocation of cell tower/billboard revenues would almost double their current discretionary account spending, at a time when the general fund faces an $8.9 million general fund deficit, with even greater deficits anticipated in future years: $12 million next year, $14 million the year after that and $15 million the year after that and so on. The city manager has also warned the council that the city faces a “fiscal cliff” in a few years as annual pension costs explode and Measure U revenues expire.

We originally asked the council to shift such revenues to the general fund for the following reasons, all of which continue to fully apply:

1.  To partially offset deep cuts in basic city services funded by the general fund, particularly parks and recreation spending;

2.  To assure that the spending of such revenues be subject to the city’s regular expenditure process which gives the public the opportunity to weigh in on spending priorities in an open process observable by all, as compared to unaccountable and opaque spending by individual council members which provides zero opportunity for public input;

3.  To reduce the “slush fund” spending of public money by council members. Far too often such spending is used to curry political favor with influential community groups and to advance the personal political ambitions of politicians – at the expense of city taxpayers and open government;

4.  We acknowledge that many council members have used such funds responsibly and in a manner that provides tangible benefits to the community. But in too many cases they have not. The problem with unaccountable spending by council members is that the “bad” spending by some members undermines public trust in the council as a whole. Trust is easily lost and, once lost, is very difficult to regain.

The $400,000 to $450,000 in cell tower/billboard revenues that some council members want to put back into their discretionary accounts could: (1) put four additional police officers on the street or (2) four new firefighters on the job or (3) add eight additional park maintenance workers. Each such option would help restore core city services that have been severely reduced in recent years.

We encourage the city council to act responsibly and continue to appropriate cell tower/billboard revenues through the city’s normal budget process.


Editor’s note: The EOS blog is a regular analysis and commentary on local government. To receive new blogs click sign me up.