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PD Editorial: Timing is wrong for local sales tax hikes

  • Voter Registration Clerk Ricardo Chavarria put together an absentee ballot for the June 5th primary election at the Sonoma County Registrar Of Voters Office in Santa Rosa, California on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

At the bottom of their Nov. 6 ballots, voters in Healdsburg and Sebastopol will find a local sales tax increase.

In Healdsburg, voters will be deciding on Measure V, a half-cent tax to help the city balance its books and replace funds lost when Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies statewide.

In Sebastopol, voters will be deciding on Measure Y, a half-cent sales tax intended for much the same purpose. Sebastopol officials say they've lost roughly $1.5 million from state pilfering. Measure Y would boost Sebastopol's sales tax from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent — the highest in Sonoma County — bringing in roughly $1 million a year for the next eight years. Although it's a general tax, so the purposes cannot be specified, city officials say the intent is to use the funds to fill a vacancy in its police force, restore other staffing and maintain streets.

Meanwhile, Healdsburg is looking for a $1 million increase in annual revenue by raising its sales tax from 8 percent to 8.5 percent for 10 years. City officials argue that they've done all they can to bring down expenses, reduce staff — an overall 18 percent reduction — and reduce benefit costs by, among other things, negotiating a two-tier benefit system. But they still face an $800,000 deficit in the upcoming budget.

"It boils down to the fact that communities are going to have to depend more on themselves," Mayor Gary Plass said in arguing in favor of the tax increase.

We have no disagreement with that. We also have no problem with cities seeking new ways to pay for major infrastructure projects that previously had been funded through redevelopment agencies.

We have some concerns about the pension liabilities that continue to hamper <NO1><NO>both communities. <NO1><NO>But our primary disagreement with these measures concerns their timing. It couldn't be worse. In this election, voters will be deciding on a number of revenue-generating measures that, in our view, take priority. Most notably, voters will be deciding on Proposition 30, a quarter-cent statewide sales tax, which would provide $6 billion in much-needed revenue and prevent trigger cuts that would result in a loss of $5 billion in funding for K-12 schools statewide. Voters also will be deciding on other measures to boost or maintain local education funding and infrastructure. This includes Measure O, a parcel tax to provide funding for programs, teachers and books for the Sebastopol Union School District.

We've strongly encouraged voters to support these measures as they address our state's greatest needs.

Furthermore, voters should be given an opportunity to see the cumulative effects of these measures before being asked to approve other funding. Depending on the outcome of Proposition 30 — let alone Proposition 38, a competing tax measure supporting education — Sebastopol, for example, could be seeing its sales tax increase to 9 percent, not 8.75 percent.

If voters choose to support these tax increases, we believe they can do so with confidence that the money will be spent wisely. But our concern is that the majority of voters, while willing to support some tax measures, don't have the ability to support them all. As such, we encourage voters to give the priority to those that bolster education, and we recommend a no vote on measures V and Y.

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