Under the campaign slogans of the mayor of Auckland
OPINION: Once upon a time there was an elected mayor of Auckland with a policy of “doing more with less”.
Six years later, Phil Goff will retire after signing two average rate increases to record highs for Auckland council, and more than double the increases that preceded and initially followed his election.
Of course, there was the Covid-19 (unexpected), and the need to invest to counter climate change (not unexpected), but it reminds us that in an election year, slogans and speeches are not expensive.
Goff’s 2016 “more with less” line never stood up to scrutiny because his own election policy was to limit average rate hikes to 2.5%, which in anyone’s language which, is “more”.
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To his credit, Goff wasn’t just picking numbers out of thin air. His campaign team included a former treasury official who had scoured the council’s books and apparently found plenty of room to save money.
The campaign line was that savings of 3-6% were possible, up to $70 million a year. But that’s when being an underdog job candidate, even a well-researched one, started to show some flaws.
The board had already started cutting costs and found $70 million in seven months. When asked, Goff insisted his savings would be on top of that. Savings continued to be found, but not at this level.
As voters ponder who they want as mayor starting in October, they should scratch under the slogans and wonder if the promises can be kept.
Here are some of the slogans for the mayors of 2022. Businessman Wayne Brown calls himself “The Fixer”. Restaurateur Leo Molloy wants to “secure the future of Auckland”. Viv Beck is ‘Auckland deserves better’.
Labour-backed councilor Efeso Collins – the only insider candidate – has yet to raise a slogan, while re-election candidate Craig Lord says ‘Don’t moan for change, vote for change’.
Beating Auckland Transport is an election year favorite, and the three outsiders are all into it to varying degrees. Presenting the council as overpaid bureaucrats, fiddling while the city burns, is quite another.
Leo Molloy has become the first to recall a strident promise regarding council-owned Auckland Transport that he would make it chairman himself, ahead of a high-profile overhaul.
It is a decision that is not authorized by the legislation that created the merged council of Auckland, but when Thing twice tried to talk to Molloy about it, his campaign team blocked interviews.
Molloy’s stated policy now is that he would “replace the board” of AT – something he could influence but not decide alone.
Wayne Brown is also on the lookout for CCOs (the agencies called Council Controlled Organisations) who label Eke Panuku a “development company competing with taxpayers and private sector developers”.
In most cases, that’s not the case, but Brown otherwise remains on politically safe ground to make personal judgments about what CCOs need to do better.
The mayor of Auckland, under the merger legislation, gets additional roles over others and access to a generous – but never fully used – budget to staff an office and do research.
But when voters decide which campaign cry they want, they should remember that the mayor doesn’t have much power.
The mayor has influence and has yet to build consensus around the council table for any initiative.
The terms of administration of municipal agencies, such as Auckland Transport, are decided by majority vote around a committee table.
However, this is only the start of Auckland’s mayoral race in 2022. In 2016, the first public debate for the candidates was held in February.
Aucklanders should expect compelling arguments over what each candidate will do and how over the next few months, with slogans fading into the background.