Two former Huntington Beach mayors and two sitting council members Tuesday debated the merits of Measure O, a city charter amendment that calls for saving 15 percent of the city’s general fund just for infrastructure improvement.
And though the debate centered on a specific issue in a specific town, it was in many respects just another skirmish in the ongoing rhetorical battle between public employees unions and the local Republican Party.
The Huntington Beach charter already calls for a separate infrastructure fund. However, the city’s current interpretation of the charter allows funds from that allocation to be used to pay for debt service. The measure would bar that use beginning in 2017.
Councilman Don Hansen and former Mayor Shirley Dettloff argued in favor of the measure, saying it is needed to restore the will of the voters and counter public employees union influence. Councilman Keith Bohr and former Mayor Debbie Cook argued that the measure would unnecessarily tie the hands of future councils.
The Hansen and Dettloff team insisted that the measure simply restores the original intent of the city’s voters, who in 2002 approved the infrastructure fund. “We need to realize the will of the people can no longer be considered irrelevant,” Hansen said.
Hansen also pointed out public employees union opposition to the measure.
“There are voices in the community that feel threatened by this,” Hansen said before referring to a chart that showed the pension portion of the general fund exploding by 196 percent over the past decade.
Cook, who was known as fiscally conservative during her tenure on the council, said she suspects the measure is a political ploy by the Orange County Republican Party and called it a short-sighted reaction to public employees union influence and rising pension costs.
“I don’t want to burn the barn down to kill some mice,” Cook said.
Cook and Bohr also said the measure hamstrings future City Councils from making fiscal decisions that best fit their own budget situations. Cook questioned the effective date of the measure, noting that sitting council members would be termed out in 2017 and won’t have to deal with its ramifications.
Finally, Cook said the measure would hurt the city’s ability to pay for bigger infrastructure projects by relying on a “pay-as-you-go approach” to financing improvements.
“Even though people think they’re going to get more by setting aside and spending 15 percent on a hard asset, I think you’re actually going to get less,” she said.