By Tim Hunt
Sales tax increases head for November ballotUploaded: Aug 4, 2020
Last week, supervisors in Alameda and Contra Costa counties decided to give the public a choice about whether to raise taxes.
Both boards, with only Danville Supervisor Candace Andersen opposed, approved putting half-cent increases in the sales tax on the ballot. The money would be used to supplement the counties’ general funds with money targeted for social services.
Alameda County residents already pay at least 9.25% with five cities at 9.75% with an extra half-cent applied locally. County residents already are paying an additional 1 cent for transportation, one-half cent for the county health care system and have a higher sales tax rate than almost 90 percent of the cities in the state.
The Alameda County proposal is for 10 years and is estimated to raise $150 million per year. Our local supervisors, the retiring Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley joined their colleagues in the unanimous approval. That’s a big chunk of money, but, for perspective, consider that the budget was $3.54 billion in the last fiscal year.
The good news is that it should require a two-thirds majority vote, giving tax-conscious citizens an opportunity to scuttle it.
Contra Costa passed their ballot measure with a major contingency—the passage of legislation by state Sen. Steve Glazer by Aug. 24. Glazer’s bill would allow Contra Costa County to put forward the tax measure with revenues going to its general fund and do so by only a simple majority vote. Measures such as sales taxes for transportation have required a two-thirds vote although the Legislature has lowered the threshold for school bond measures to 55%.
As difficult as the county budget will be this year, it’s no time to impose a further burden on families. Statewide voters blew the whistle in the March primary when they rejected a $15 billion school bond and well over 50% of the local tax measures in the state went down.
As CalMatters columnist Dan Walters observed that was even true in affluent Marin County where school measures that typically won with 70% or more went down or barely passed. He also observed in a March column that a Public Policy Institute of California poll showed that 58% of those polled believed taxes were too high.
After seeing measures thrashed in March, will the politicians and advocates slow down in November—not likely given measures being floated in Sacramento and last week’s action by the supervisors. The November ballot also brings the option for a partial repeal of Proposition 13 that would transform it into a split roll for property taxes with commercial and retail properties subject to reassessment instead of locked in to set increases.