Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A cautionary tale for City Council

As the Tracy City Council considers raising revenue (city speak for taxes) at its meeting tonight, there's a story in Stockton, our county seat, that the five council members should keep in mind when directing staff to deal with the city's continued budget deficit.

It's also a story that should get the attention — and fair reading — of union members and representatives.

You see, Stockton's fiscal ship is sinking faster than Tracy's. Much faster. So much faster that bankruptcy could soon be an honest consideration. One of the major holes in the government's hull is its union contracts — fire and police there receive (to the average working stiff) too-good-to-be-true benefits. And, unlike Tracy's outfits so far, it seems as though they've been more obstinant than helpful in negotiations.

So, what's the lesson for Tracy and its unions? That the housing boom, and the money it brought with it, is over. And it ain't coming back any time soon. That means everyone will have to recalibrate what is fair compensation — and fiscally responsible compensation — as cities try to live within their means.

Unions and cities can work together so that employees still get pay and benefits that are the envy of their neighbors while cities keep their financial houses in order. Or, they can squabble, waste money, drive the city further into the red and tarnish the reputation of police and fire employees who otherwise are usually the toast of the town.

Your decision, guys.

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