Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown admits it’s a “close call” but he is currently short on support for the $2.3 billion sale of the council’s airport shares ahead of releasing council’s final budget proposal today.
Brown has been trying to rally councillors to vote for the sale, calling them to two confidential meetings yesterday, one in the morning on the sale of the airport shares and one yesterday afternoon to discuss a draft of the mayor’s final budget proposal.
Brown releases his final budget proposal in the board room at Auckland Transport at 8.30am this morning - a day later than planned.
When the Mike Hosking Breakfast Show this morning suggested it was clear Brown hadn’t succeeded in securing enough support among councillors, the mayor conceded: “It’s not looking a dream”.
However, he also said “we don’t know that yet”, calling it a “close call”.
At yesterday morning’s meeting, staff from Flagstaff, the Australian firm engaged by the council to advise on the airport shares sale, addressed councillors via video link.
The meetings come the day after Brown condemned “Labour MPs in waiting” for not getting behind his plan to offload the airport shares and an earlier report that Brown believes he only has nine votes to sell the shares with 12 votes against.
However, a handful of councillors are believed to be wavering on both sides.
Brown told host Mike Hosking he’d made his position clear to councillors that he had been elected mayor to cut council spending.
“Only 4 per cent of people consulted on wanted more rates and yet a lot of the council seems to think they represent people who actually they didn’t listen to,” Brown said.
He said he believed the only way to keep from having to raise rates faster was to sell the airport shares.
He said four councillors had earlier signed pledges to not to increase the overall ratepayer burden on Aucklanders.
Brown said he call on them to own up they had broken the pledge if they didn’t support the sale of the airport shares, saying the only way to keep rate rises in check was to support the sale.
“I’ve got four of them to have signed a pledge to say that they wouldn’t increase rates, but they don’t want to sell the shares,” he said.
“You just can’t do that.”
Brown said he can’t understand why people would want to keep airport shares “that cost us $100 million a year in interest and give us back $25m to $30m”.
“Now, 100 is a bigger number than 25 or 30, but I just can’t get that across to some of them.”
Hosking then asked Brown what the rate increase would be if the shares aren’t sold.
“Listen, it adds at least 33 per cent on to everybody,” he said.
He also said it wasn’t a case of privatisation because the council already had no control over the operation of the airport.
It comes as Brown has made the sale of the council’s 18 per cent shareholding in Auckland Airport the centrepiece of a plan to address a budget hole, now standing at $375m, and in line with an election promise to “stop wasting money”.
Brown’s preference is to sell the shares, keep rate rises as low as possible - hopefully around the inflation rate of 6.7 per cent - increase debt by no more than $100m, and moderate spending cuts, including reinstating a $2 million cut to Citizens Advice Bureau.
If he cannot sell the shares, Brown has threatened to reinstate deep cuts to social services and the arts and said rates could rise up to 13.5 per cent.
In an interview with the Herald yesterday, Brown zeroed in on “Labour MPs in waiting” who, he said, knew selling the shares was the right thing to do but were telling him they had been contacted by the unions and others, so they didn’t want to do it.
“The council is not a waiting room for would-be MPs, they are here to do what I am here to do, which is to stop wasting ratepayers’ money,” said the mayor.
Brown did not name the councillors with ambitions to be MPs, but several councillors have strong ties to the Labour Party and a potential future in national politics.
One Labour councillor, Josephine Bartley, said she is not in the camp of being an MP in waiting.
“What I look at is what is best for Auckland not because of any deals or future political prospects,” she said on social media.
Brown reminded councillors that only 4 per cent of Aucklanders supported higher rates during public consultation on the proposed budget and most supported a full or partial sale of the airport shares.
“There are a lot of people out there with mortgages in a spot of bother, and I feel sorry for them. I don’t want to make it any worse,” he said.