Commentary: Newport council’s $480,000 rejection sends the wrong message to Sacramento

A view of Newport Beach City Hall in 2012. The City Council turned down $480,000 in state funds to improve streets on Aug. 8.
(File photo / Daily Pilot)

During the Aug. 8 Newport Beach City Council meeting, we experienced one of the most irresponsible and ideologically misguided acts in recent memory.

Newport Beach was eligible for $480,000 in needed state funds to improve our streets, specifically for MacArthur Boulevard and University Drive. Rather than pass a simple resolution to meet the eligibility criteria for these funds, our council, by a 5-2 vote, rejected the application and thus turned down funding that was due our city from revenue generated by Newport Beach motorists.

In effect, the prevailing council members were trying to “send a message” to Sacramento that they oppose the recent increase in the gasoline tax. I oppose this increase too. The California gas tax, like the sales and income taxes, are among the highest in the nation.

Sacramento needs to reduce taxes to promote economic growth. But refusing to accept money due to the city and generated by locals is the height of ideological foolishness. The tax is not reduced by one penny.

The so-called “message” received by Sacramento is that our local officials are irresponsible and the California Transportation Commission should feel free to allocate tax dollars generated in Newport Beach to Los Angeles and Oakland, much the same way they redirect our property taxes. You can hear Sacramento laughing at us.

Team Newport told us we can’t afford to improve our streets, libraries and community centers. Then, they happily cut another $480,000 hole in the city’s revenue. Unfortunately, this may not be the end of it.

The Orange County Transportation Authority estimates this new revenue source could provide $1.9 million annually to the city for needed street and road improvements. Is the council majority going to continue to “make a point” by refusing this money? Keep in mind, this is money generated by Newport Beach motorists.

We are used to ideological posturing by Councilman Scott Peotter on issues like this, but here he was joined by his Team Newport partners. Indeed, Peotter initially moved to approve the application, then voted against his own motion when it became clear he was being outflanked by people more extremist then himself. Credit to Councilman Brad Avery and Councilwoman Diane Dixon for not participating in this political stunt.

We can calculate the cost to Newport taxpayers of this political posturing: $480,000 this year and approximately $1.9 million each year thereafter when fully phased in. Newport Beach taxpayers cannot afford this level of irresponsibility. To deny Newport residents the benefit of the taxes they themselves pay is simply inexcusable.

KEITH CURRY is a former mayor of Newport Beach.