The decision that voters in Phoenix City Council District 6 make on Tuesday, Aug. 27 will determine whether we remain a great city for the benefit of future generations or embark on the path of decline already laid out by cities like Detroit.
Cities become and remain great when voters elect responsible, independent leaders. The opposite is also true. Great cities decline when voters elect candidates more beholden to public sector unions than to the people they were elected to serve. We will either vote for responsible fiscal management and opportunity under Councilman Sal DiCiccio, or we will choose union dominated decisions and decline under Karlene Keogh-Parks.
The recent recession has made it abundantly clear that union driven spending commitments and poor planning, coupled with unreasonable investment expectations, also union driven, will wreak havoc on even the best managed city budgets. In those cities where public sector unions have been left unchecked by leaders like DiCiccio, the result has been disaster.
The story goes like this. Unions influence voters to elect their chosen candidates to public office (in this case, Keogh-Parks). Those candidates, now in office, reward that support by voting to increase public sector employee salary, health and pension benefits. The city spends more and more on public employee commitments and less and less on schools, vital infrastructure and other pro-growth investments. Eventually, tax rates are raised to fill the ever-deepening hole. Finally, industry and talent flee to better managed climates, employment rates drop and overall tax revenue declines. Through it all, public employee expenses grow and grow. Rinse, repeat, rinse. It is a slow, agonizing death spiral. In the best of scenarios, decades are lost.
If you live or travel anywhere near District 6, you’ve seen the election signs. DiCiccio is union enemy No. 1 while Keogh-Parks is their new favorite candidate. There is a reason for this. The Arizona Republic recently noted DiCiccio for being “the first on the council to recognize the gravity of the (Phoenix’s) pension problem, and he has been unquestionably the most vociferous in advocating for its aggressive reform.” Is it any wonder that Keogh-Parks has the support of every major public sector union in Phoenix?
No city can long remain great when it is run more for the benefit of those it employs than those it serves.
The dominoes are already falling: Detroit; Harrisburg, Pa., and; Stockton and San Bernadino, Calif., are just a few early examples of what happens to a city run by union dominated officials. They are, figuratively speaking, the canaries in the coal mine. Union dominated cities as large as Chicago and New York are finally waking up to public employee related liabilities that, left unaddressed, will eventually sink them.
Phoenix is no exception. According to the 2012 Phoenix Annual Financial Report the total unfunded liability for city pensions, including public safety, is over $2.5 billion. If the unions are successful in defeating DiCiccio in this election, current and future council members will almost certainly be less willing to stand up to them. Over time, our liabilities will outpace our tax revenues and Phoenix will begin its journey down the path of decline.
Phoenix needs Sal DiCiccio. He is committed to ensuring that the city your children inherit will be more vibrant and full of opportunity than the one we are fortunate to share today. He has shown both the foresight to recognize our challenges and the courage to speak out on them. It is a rare combination in today’s politician. For his honesty, DiCiccio has been rewarded with intimidation and union attacks against not only DiCiccio but, incredibly, his wife and grade-school-aged daughters.
We all say we want honest politicians who are willing to do what is right even if it may not be easy or in their own best interest. We all know we must be able to trust our elected officials to responsibly manage our city’s future, our children’s future. We have that in DiCiccio. The responsible vote in District 6 on Aug. 27 is Sal DiCiccio.
If not, we will get what we deserve. Just ask Detroit.
• James F. Keating, JD, CPCU, is chief executive officer of The Keating Group, Inc., a national insurance brokerage firm with headquarters located in Phoenix’s District 6, at 2198 E. Camelback Road.