Paul Gann, author of a 1979 ballot measure that imposed spending and revenue limits on local government, Tuesday addressed civic leaders in Costa Mesa, one of two local cities that soon could exceed spending limits set by his Proposition 4.
Speaking before the Costa Mesa Civic Assn., Gann, also co-author of Proposition 13, which limited property tax increases, warned that if government doesn’t curb its spending, “the well will run dry,” cutting off vital services.
“We’re going to end up with an empty bucket,” he told the noontime audience. “When you have an empty bucket and the well runs dry, everybody stops drinking.”
Under Proposition 4, local government must return money to taxpayers if spending exceeds prescribed limits. Because Costa Mesa’s projected spending this year comes perilously close to its limit, officials soon may have to come up with plans for refunding excess revenues.
Complicating Costa Mesa’s problem, however, is the fact that the bulk of its revenues come from sales taxes and the like, most of which are collected from people who don’t live in the city, according to Mayor Norma Hertzog, who sat in on Gann’s talk.
“I’m not sure how we would return that (sales tax) money, because it . . . doesn’t belong to the people who live here,” she said after the speech, noting that the question probably will be settled at the polls because the initiative allows cities to keep the surpluses if a majority of voters agree.
Gann, who said he would “fight just as hard” for cities to keep needed revenues as he would to cut taxes, told the audience that the key to cities convincing voters to let them keep extra money is to “gain their trust and confidence.”