After attending the March 28 Community Meeting on the Budget at which attendees were invited to contribute ideas, I came up with these suggestions.

Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share

Since the number of Valley jobs has increased over 25% over the past 10 years, and housing stock has not kept up – resulting in lots of supply/demand imbalance problems – we need to act quickly and boldly. Since corporations are both the cause and the primary beneficiaries of that growth while the externalized costs fall mainly on residents, we must seek solutions that require corporations to pay their fair share. One way is to press for reform of Prop. 13 so that corporations start paying their fair share of property taxes.

At the budget presentations on 1/29, it was noted that “We need to diversify our revenue stream.” In addition to putting a cannabis tax on the 2020 ballot, I recommend a number of other fees for polluters and free-loaders at http://meansfordemocracy.org/budget.html . Topping my list of pollutants are carbon fuels. For example, a 2% fee for each gallon of gas sold in the City could generate about $1M/year without impacting sales. From that list of 41, here are my top 5 favorites:

  • Diesel fuel which, when used as directed, exhausts 40 different carcinogens, tiny particles (PM 2.5) and Nox (both of which causing major respiratory problems), and CO2;
  • High-fructose corn syrup which is linked to obesity and pregnancy/baby problems;
  • Bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides;
  • Glyphosate, the herbicide in Roundup weed killer, causes a long list of health and environmental issues;
  • Fox News misinforms viewers, and pollutes our public discourse and democracy with fake news.

Free-loading corporations

From my list of 28 free-loading corporate activities, my top 4 favorite ways to balance the scales are:

  • Charge a fee on products sold in non-recyclable packaging;
  • Require liability insurance for gun owners, like we do for car owners.
  • Since organic regenerative agriculture sequesters huge amounts of CO2, while “conventional” agriculture does the opposite, let’s tax the latter.
  • Do as the Portland City Council did in passing a tax on companies with high CEO/worker income ratio. Revenue from the new tax, which seeks to address income inequality, could be used to pay for programs for the homeless.

Affordable Housing

We also need to address the growing foreign ownership of local properties and the problems pertaining to absentee landlording. Our housing stock is not just a piggy bank for foreign investors seeking to diversify their investments or hide their wealth. Put a heavy annual tax on foreign ownership, and we are likely to see a short-term surge in available housing. Finding out how big a problem foreign ownership is to our housing supply makes sense now.

Foreign ownership of local housing falls into 3 categories: 1) those who live in their homes (as do both my neighbors), 2) those who rent out houses but live elsewhere, and 3) foreign owners who leave houses empty. At the budget meeting, someone mentioned taxing the latter – along with domestic owners who leave their properties empty. We are smart enough to devise rules that address the problem without impacting the first category.

Potential Big-Dollar Savings

On the money-saving side of the budget, I recommend the City get behind 2 initiatives. First, help pass a single-payer, universal health care system in California. Our unfunded retiree healthcare liability could drop by 20% when we cut out the corporate greed inherent in private insurance. Second, help create a public bank where the City can save on costs and shelter funds from corrupt and fiscally unstable “too big to fail” banks. Until such banking is available, we should at least move our funds to more socially responsible banking institutions so we are not banking with crooks.

The CalPERS funding gap seems too big to close using the current strategy. We got into this hole because the predicted ROI of the fund’s investments was unrealistically high. Given a likely recession (and possible stock market collapse), current predictions for covering the unfunded liabilities also seem unrealistically high. I don’t have a solution to this problem, and it may require national legislation. However, as we seem to be ahead of other cities in term of making up our unfunded liability, a less aggressive funding schedule than we’ve pursued in recent years seems appropriate.

Increase Spending

On the expense side, work with SVCE to institute (and sweeten) energy-saving and energy-producing deals for Milpitas residents. Also, continue to add staffing to replace and augment the 70% of staff that remained after the Esteves/Williams period. The fact that Milpitas has only 51 FTEs/10K population compared with an area average of 74 FTEs is alarming. I would feel comfortable with 67 FTEs or more, i.e. within 10% of the average.

Our backlog of deferred infrastructure costs is long and expensive. We have a lot of catching up to do. Which is another reason to increase revenues.

Another Community Meeting on the Budget will be held on Thursday, April 18 at 6:00 pm in Rooms 140 and 141 of the Barbara Lee Senior Center, 457 E Calaveras Boulevard. Staff does an excellent presentation on where City money comes from and goes to. I encourage you to attend, ask questions, and learn how our City works.

Rob Means
Rob Means is a 40-year resident and community activist working to reduce CO2 emissions by electrifying transportation.

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