In April 2010, the Phoenix City Council imposed a 2 percent tax on food in order to keep police and firefighters on the streets and prevent painful cuts to libraries, senior centers and after-school programs.
Or so we thought.
The food tax is expected to bring in $28 million this year. Meanwhile, city employees got $27 million in raises and bonuses this year.
Now the Phoenix City Council has tentatively approved a budget that includes another $28.9 million in pay raises and bonuses for the coming year.
Somehow, in 15 public hearings on the budget, the plan to boost the pay of virtually everybody other than city managers never came up -- until this week, when the City Council promptly voted 6-2 to OK the deal.
City leaders justify the pay hikes, saying they are offset by a 3.2 percent cut to wages and benefits agreed to by employee unions last year – concessions that will save the city $52 million next year.
What they didn't mention – until this week, that is – is that nearly $29 million of that $52 million will be plowed right back into salaries. This, at a time when the city faces a $59 million shortfall, at a time when residents still see cuts to libraries and pools and such.
In the coming year, about half of the city's employees will receive merit raises averaging 4.6 percent. It's not yet known how many will receive “longevity” bonuses – basically, rewards for those at the top of the pay scale who no longer qualify for raises. But in recent years, at least 89 percent of employees have gotten one or the other each year.
So now seems a very good time to remind you that city elections are Aug. 30. I'm guessing pay raises might be an issue for some in this city – people who are unemployed and those whose “bonus” this year was hanging onto a job. Given that, I polled the major candidates for mayor, to see where they stand.
Councilman Claude Mattox didn't return a call. But he voted for pay raises and bonuses both last year and this week, noting that the city is contracturally obligated. He ought to know. He voted for those contracts.
Former Councilman Greg Stanton said he, too, would likely have supported the pay raises. “Last year, the city employees took a pretty good pay decrease,” he said. “They did not fill any positions so we're asking our city employees to do a heck of a lot more for the salary reduction that they took. And when management makes an agreement like that, the credibility of the city is really important.”
Every other mayoral candidate panned the pay boosts. Thane Eichenauer and Wes Gullett questioned how 89 percent of employees could merit a raise. “You want to reward people who are going above and beyond but 89 percent are not going above and beyond,” Gullett said. “That's not a bell curve, that's a vertical line. That's almost everyone.”
Jennifer Wright pointed to the promised $104 million in employee concessions over two years, which really only amounted to $69 million given the raises. Meanwhile, the food tax was supposed to save police and firefighter jobs.
“Essential services like fire and police and after-school programs are continually put on the chopping block first,” she said. “They are used as political pawns to raise taxes.”
Former Councilwoman Peggy Neely said she, too, would have been a no on the pay hikes, which is fairly interesting when you consider that like Mattox, she voted for this year's pay raises and bonuses.
Neely said she agreed to those raises because the city still saved money, given the 3.2 percent employee concessions. That's no longer true, she adds, though the city says otherwise.
“After we had been beaten down by the budget and food tax, I agreed that we could do the issues on the employees issues,” she said. “But then with the furor that began to come out over this last year, it should have been fully aware to the city manager and staff that this was going to be a hot issue and we should have been talking about it at the budget hearings.”
Instead, it never came up, not in a single one of those those 15 public hearings and not in any of the budget information given to the public.
Curious, don't you think?
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