Mayor Chris Beutler today said a Charter amendment written by a special interest group is "reckless, irresponsible and a threat to all we have accomplished and all we can accomplish in the future." If passed by voters, the amendment would require voter approval of any tax increase. The public hearing and vote to put the issue on the May 2017 ballot are scheduled to be on the agenda for the City Council meeting Monday, December 19, which begins at 5:30 p.m.
City Councilman Roy Christensen introduced the measure on behalf of Citizens for a Better Lincoln, a political action committee (PAC) financially supported by the Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA) PAC. Mayor Beutler said the leaders of those two groups - Perry Pirsch of Citizens for a Better Lincoln and Coby Mach of LIBA - apparently did not consult bond experts to determine the impact of their proposal.
"That simple bit of homework would have revealed how their scheme threatens Lincoln's triple- A bond rating, the very highest credit rating that a municipality can receive," Beutler said. "This designation pays enormous benefits to taxpayers, saving millions on interest costs. Had Mach or Pirsch bothered to ask any questions of financial experts or staff, they would have discovered how their scheme could cause lenders to declare that Lincoln cannot meet its existing contractual obligations. The consequences for Lincoln residents would be severe and immediate."
In addition to the increased interest payments that would result from a credit rating downgrade, Mayor Beutler said the inability to guarantee revenues to keep pace with a growing city would threaten funding for public safety, roads and other City services.
Another problem with the proposal, he said, is a lack of transparency. "There were no discussions with any public officials or bond experts and no public meetings to discuss how the proposal would work," Beutler said. "It was drafted behind closed doors by a special interest group with no input from elected officials or the public. The City's Charter Revision Commission was intentionally bypassed -- apparently to avoid any scrutiny of the proposal before it was introduced."
Mayor Beutler said it is not the job of elected officials to blindly put forward a proposal that jeopardizes the City's bond rating on the word of special interest groups.
"We have an obligation to examine the issue, take a stand and be straightforward with Lincoln residents on what is lost if this charter amendment passes," Beutler said. "If Council wants to send this charter amendment to the voters, each member needs to tell the public his or her position on the issue and how they intend to deal with the inevitable fallout. It is a dereliction of duty for Council members to throw up their hands and say 'it is up to the voters' without taking responsibility for the potential problems that will arise.
"Why would we jeopardize our historic level of success by implementing a reckless, irresponsible and unproven scheme?" he continued. "Why would we allow a plan crafted by special interests behind closed doors to undermine all we have achieved? We cannot allow a very small number of people associated with a special interest group to determine the future of over 250,000 Lincoln residents. That's not how we do things in Lincoln, and I urge the City Council to do the right thing and defeat this proposal."