Eric Evans: Raise Taxes 10% and Lay Off Firefighters Instead of Cutting People’s Garbage Bills

This is the worst trade-off ever. Hopefully there are enough votes against a 10% tax increase to force the multi-hauler dead-enders to buckle:

The plan includes cutting five firefighters and raising property taxes up to another 1 percent on top of the 8.5 percent hike already proposed for 2013 by Mayor John Callahan, council members said. Council members Karen Dolan and Michael Recchiuti say they’d much prefer switching to a single garbage hauler over either of those options.

But a majority of council members don’t favor changing Bethlehem’s private garbage collection system, which would leave a $500,000 hole in the 2013 budget. It’s also looking more likely that Bethlehem won’t get $1 million in contributions from nonprofit organizations, Evans said […]

Increasing property taxes above 8.5 percent and cutting firefighters is council’s last choice, and Evans said he is hopeful Callahan might have better suggestions. About $1 million of the $72.1 million spending plan could be cut without increasing the tax hike or cutting jobs, Evans said.

Clearly the 10% tax hike and firing firefighters is not “Council’s last choice” because Eric Evans and Bob Donchez prefer that choice to the much better option of saving people money on their garbage bills.

The smart political strategy now for John Callahan is to publicly balk at “Councilman Evans’ 10% property hike” and promise to veto any budget that lays off more public employees.

The way the veto works is that the budget is vetoed if Callahan doesn’t sign it within 10 days. Then Council would have to come up with 5 votes to override the veto within 3 days.

The veto threat turns the tables on Council, and raises the political cost to Council members of not passing the single hauler plan for several reasons. First, it makes this a more interesting story, and drags it out for longer in the media. Second, it makes it harder for Council to kill the the single hauler without a vote. The math’s not going to work without the 10% tax hike or more layoffs, so it will likely force a vote on single hauler.

Having to overcome a veto in order to pass a 10% tax hike and more layoffs puts opposition Council members in a real ugly political position, and single hauler starts looking like the better choice. Between the intense media focus on the 10% tax hike vote, and union pressure backing up Callahan’s no-layoffs position, either Donchez or Evans (and if they’re smart, both) is probably going to crack and sign off on the single hauler plan.

John Callahan might be able to win the single hauler fight once and for all if he’s willing to win ugly. It would be a gutsy move, but I think it would pay off to show Democratic primary voters that he’d be willing to play hardball with a Republican opposition as Northampton County Executive.

(Thanks: Lynn Olanoff)


  1. This has to be the silliest political issue ever. To make such a small amount of money (500k in this city budget is not a significant amount of money) and this much noise at this time of year is silly. Just charge every resident $7 as a “trash freedom fee” and be done with it.

    The Morning Call “interview” was barely helpful. There must be a better way of estimating the “average” family’s trash bill than guessing.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      It’s not silly though. This is a bad trash collection system. It puts garbage trucks in the neighborhoods every single day. It encourages free riding. It prevents single stream recycling, which would make it easier for people to recycle. And it’s more expensive for most people. This is a crap market design, and better public policies can clearly improve the situation. If there’s a “just be done with it” position here, it’s to pass the single hauler plan.

      • You do realize that your “Councilman Evans 10% property tax hike” is a bald-faced lie?

        His piece is 1.5% and you know that.

        It’s time we start talking truthfully about this kind of thing. And when you lie, you lose credibility – and that’s something you have little of to begin with so I’d be more careful if I were you.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          It’s not a lie. Eric Evans is proposing to increase taxes by 10%. He wants a 10% tax increase. John Callahan only wants an 8.5% tax increase.

  2. Wrong – Callahan proposed 8.5% first, Evans went from there. If Callahan had proposed 3%, then Evans would be at 4.5%.

    This is what I mean about credibility. Talk truthfully.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Evans is proposing a 10% tax hike. Not my fault it sounds terrible. It is terrible, especially because there’s a better option that saves people money on their bills.

  3. That’s a cute way to put it if you were writing press releases, but not accurate if you are talking about policy. If you are talking about the impact of having a city-bid trash hauler or not, the tax impact is simply not a 10 percent raise.

    The Bethlehem trash pickup is, to be fair, weird and probably overly expensive. But its not like the city is overwhelmed with trash or seeing cholera outbreaks, unless I’m missing something. If the system has gone on this long without a major public health crisis, it just sounds funny to listen to people suddenly concerned about the problem

    So the city can sell it as a way to raise revenue (lame, given the small amount of money we’re talking about) or as a way to save taxpayers money (completely valid and laudable). Trying to make both arguments sounds insincere. Making the second argument really does need better data than what the city has provided. Saying they have “no way of figuring out” average cost is weak.

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