Puffing is a term used in marketing which is the expression of an exaggerated opinion-as opposed to a factual misrepresentation. An example of this might be a seller proclaiming "Always the low Price", "You're going to get a great deal" or "We give you the best value." Wary buyers are aware of such claims and live by the slogan Caveat emptor.
Taxpayers, too, are subject to similar claims as politicians of every stripe seek your vote and agencies of every type seek to reach a little further in your wallet. There is an old joke about politicians that goes like this:
"How can you tell when a politician is lying?" and the answer is, "His lips are moving."
In early September, the League of California Cities, an association of California city officials, will hold their annual convention. This year it will be in San Diego. There are a number of activities and sessions for elected officials and others. One particular item that caught our eye was the UNITING YOUR COMMUNITY AROUND LOCAL REVENUE NEEDS handout. Revenue Enhancement is in the new lexicon of public officials because using terms, such as tax or fee increases, is so upsetting to citizens.
Every agency we have reviewed is affiliated with one or more groups like the above and they all have annual conventions, as well as other meetings. Not well known is that ever more agencies are retaining the services of consultants to help them "educate" the public to the their way of thinking and to overcome anti-tax resistance from individuals and neutralize groups like, well, us! There is a growing cottage industry in the consulting area when it comes to convincing taxpayers to approve a spending increase. If an agency does hire a consultant to help bring home the bacon (the City of La Mesa and the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District are listed as clients of one such consultant) then the public is entitled to review the communications and plans connected with that effort. Where public funds are spent, public disclosure is required, if you request it!
Of course local cities are not the only agencies with financial challenges, nor the only ones engaging in such practices. Public agency nature is such that requests for increased funding for preservation (protection) of the status quo is more likely and often easier than performing cost or personnel cutting moves. It behooves the public to ask the tough questions and demand proof that other measures of efficient service delivery are implemented prior to a last resort of Revenue Enhancement.