Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. ~Proverbs 6:6-8

Times Are Changing in Gilbert By Gary Livacari

Posted: 2016-06-22

Times Are Changing in Gilbert
By Gary Livacari 6-21-16

Gilbert has earned numerous accolades and awards showcasing the town as a “best place to
live” and a “safest community in America.” These recognitions are a compelling testament to
the efficacy of fiscally restrained, conservative governing principles in unleashing economic
opportunity.

The reason for Gilbert’s success is no secret. Elected officials previously adopted disciplined
public spending plans that enabled an exceptionally low tax burden. As a result, hard working,
family­driven residents have flocked to Gilbert to enjoy freedom from the costly and gratuitous
interference of the public sector.

Unfortunately, the current Town Council has decided to embark on a different policy course, a
course that marks a disturbing deviation from the past practices of financial prudence and
self­control.

The numbers tell the story: The FY 2017 budget authorizes over $235 million in new spending,
a 38% increase in total government expenditures to $850,494,630 next year from $615,009,220
in FY 2016. The FY 2017 budget entails a $20MM increase in General Fund spending and
would balloon the ongoing General Fund cost per Gilbert citizen to $550. This figure would
constitute a nearly 18% and 39% increase since FY 2013 and FY 2005, respectively, in the
ongoing General Fund cost per Gilbert citizen.

The 2017 budget debate evidences the continuation of the Town Council’s troublesome
tendency to excuse an incrementally expansive public sector. Since 2005, the actual ongoing
General Fund cost per Gilbert citizen has skyrocketed by over 30% from approximately $395 in
FY 2005 to approximately $520 per citizen in FY 2015.

Since the Great Recession, the average Americans’ wages have risen, on average, by 2%
annually. Residents should find unacceptable the Council’s complicity in sanctioning an uptick
in local government spending that dramatically outpaces the already depleted earnings power of
a typical Gilbert homeowner.

The steady and costly creep of government in Gilbert will eventually necessitate a debilitating
tax hike. In fact, the Town will deliberate this week a motion to raise the Secondary Property
Tax Levy by 5% in FY 2017 to 1.115 from 1.06 (the actual tax increase will not be adopted until
August 9th)

With wages and incomes still stagnant, tepid economic growth pervasive and a decelerating job
market, should Gilbert residents be asked to carry more financial baggage for the public sector?
A state of public policy amnesia has gripped, and continues to grip, our locally elected leaders.
A coalition of Council members, led by Mayor John Lewis, is now inexplicably fixated on
satiating the apparent preferences of Town staff to significantly increase spending and taxes.

Mayor Lewis’ solution to higher spending appears to be “trust me.”

In the June 9th public meeting, Mayor Lewis spearheaded Council’s approval of the FY 2017
budget that continues the unsustainable rise in Gilbert’s public spending. He insisted that it is
“highly likely” the Council can “work as a team” to find $20MM in spending cuts throughout the
upcoming year, even after the Council has given formal authority to the Town staff to spend
such additional dollars.

Mayor Lewis is an honorable public servant, but should our collective, fiscal futures hinge on his
(and the Council’s) discretion in making spending cuts that the Town staff has already been
authorized to execute? Is it a sustainable financial strategy to simply hope ­ every year ­ that
our leaders and public employees will voluntarily cut spending after they have been legally
entitled to perform such spending?

This “hope for the best” approach is tantamount to a mother and father setting aside money for
a costly vacation and gleefully informing the kids about the future excursion, while making an
unbinding promise (to each other) to terminate the vacation later if the venture proves
unaffordable. How likely is it that the family will cut the vacation in this scenario?

If the Lewis coalition was truly serious about constraining governmental costs, and if $20 million
can be effortlessly extricated from the budget, why not identify and implement the cuts now
during the prescribed budget deliberation process, a process designed to foster a thorough and
transparent debate about competing spending priorities?

Why wait until the vacation has been planned and expectations have been entrenched before ­
finally ­ considering cost cutting?

The answer may be that Mayor Lewis has no real plans to reduce government spending.
In fact, the Mayor admitted during the June 9th public meeting that he does not harbor an
actionable plan to cut $20 million from the General Fund: “I cannot just say we are going to be
$20MM less, and go like that, without a plan...”

Have we forgotten that restrained spending policies enabled an exceptionally low cost of living
and unmatched quality of life in Gilbert? While many cities and towns across America were
increasing costs and grossly expanding the government’s role in the lives of citizens, Gilbert’s
leaders steadfastly protected taxpayers and families from crushing tax and regulatory burdens.

Many Council members publicly tout themselves as conservatives and regularly bask in Gilbert’s
achievements. However, these same members have demonstrated a repeated unwillingness
to check the steady growth of government in Gilbert; they have demonstrated an unfortunate
penchant for uncritically submitting to the proposals of Town public employees to extract ever-increasing wealth and income from the very taxpayers who have hired them. Our officials rush
to celebrate the successes of the past, but refuse to support the limited government ideas that
made such successes possible in the first place.

Mayor Lewis concluded his comments on the budget debate during the June 9th meeting by
proverbially bending over backwards to compliment the public employees of the Town of Gilbert:
“You are impressive... Very impressive....And then we could list thirty recognitions just like that
and there would be even more of what the Town of Gilbert has been recognized for and it's
because of our Town staff... and citizens doing their part too.”

Taxpayers should never be an afterthought. We must elect a Mayor and Council members who
will serve the taxpayers first, and not the paid Town staff.

As Mayor Lewis concludes his tenure, we should express sincere gratitude for his loyal and
decent service. But it is time to return, with urgency and decisiveness, to the principles of fiscal
restraint and limited government that are the true source of Gilbert’s prosperity. We must return
to our roots before it is too late. We need a Mayor and Council members who will, once again,
stand up for the taxpayers and happily and boldly counter the advance of government in our
beloved town.

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