Voters in a record number of California cities, including Rancho Cordova and Woodland, this week approved local sales tax increases aimed at boosting city budgets for decades to come.
A total of 68 cities put general sales tax measures on the Nov. 3 poll, the most ever. Of these, 57 were ahead in the initial vote count.
City leaders across the state say tax increases give them a locally controlled and sustainable tap, making them less dependent on what they claim to be increasingly volatile and variable shares of state tax revenues and from the federal government.
But the new taxes are criticized by tax conservatives as blank checks because cities typically do not tell voters in advance exactly how the money will be spent, allowing cities to use it for any purpose. , including controversial employee pension plans.
In Sacramento County, residents of Rancho Cordova and Isleton voted this week to increase their local sales tax by half a cent for every dollar spent on most purchases. Rancho Cordova officials estimate the tax could cost residents $ 50 to $ 100 a year, and much of it will go to repairing streets. Isleton officials say they will spend some of it on firefighting needs.
Citrus Heights, which is trying to restore its economic base amid retail closures, has proposed Measure M, a full 1 cent tax hike. However, on Friday afternoon, the measure dragged on by 300 votes. If Citrus Heights gets voter approval, it will use the funds to repair streets and strengthen the police department, Mayor Jeff Slowey said.
Wood in Yolo County and Wheatland in Yuba County gained broad voter support to expand existing sales tax increases. South Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County has approved a further 1 cent sales tax hike.
“We’re not going to rely on state and federal governments to do our job,” said South Lake Tahoe city spokesperson Chris Fiore. “South Lake Tahoe is really trying to be self-sufficient. “
Sales tax Measure S in Auburn, in Placer County, seemed doomed, however, with 53% of voters opposed in early returns.
This week’s tax measures represent the latest wave in what has been a six-year trend of more cities asking residents for a little extra help. More than half of the state’s 482 cities will now benefit from additional direct sales taxes, according to local government policy expert Michael Coleman.
Most are tackled at half a cent per dollar of goods purchased.
These aren’t the only type of local taxes that have worked well on ballots in the state this week. Voters in 24 California cities have approved cannabis business taxes on 26 of those measures on the ballot. This includes Marysville in Yuba County and Grass Valley in Nevada County.
In contrast, with partial vote totals, voters statewide said no to Proposition 15, the increase in commercial and industrial property taxes that would have provided billions of dollars to local governments, including schools. Just under 52% of voters opposed the measure after early returns.
Coleman of the League of California Cities said the tax hikes offered a subtle advantage to cities at a time when local “Main Street” stores and malls have closed as more shoppers buy. products online. Some of the new taxes allow a portion of the sales tax on online purchases to go to the city where the buyer lives, not the jurisdiction where the product warehouse or sales center is located, which is sometimes out of state.
In Rancho Cordova, a half cent Measure R was presented as a multipurpose fund that can be used to pay for any type of municipal service. But Mayor David Sander said the city will spend a large chunk of the money on street repairs and maintenance.
“We know we need an additional $ 10 million per year over a decade to bring our pavement conditions to the most effectively managed state of repair,” said Sander. “The state and the federal government are not coming to our aid. These are our own problems.
He said the city also had $ 50 million in sidewalk work to do over time.
The city had initially hoped that a proposed county-wide transportation sales tax measure this year would help all cities do this job, but the measure was tabled when county officials determined that voters reject it during the economic downturn from COVID-19.
In Woodland, where voters approved a 10-year extension to an existing sales tax, those voters also approved three complementary measures advising the city to use a percentage of the money for the municipal library, programs for youth and crime prevention.
In South Lake Tahoe, officials pointed out that the success of the city’s Measure S, a full 1-cent tax on most purchases, would mean millions of out-of-town visitors would contribute when they shop. of purchases, not just residents. Grocery and drug purchases are exempt.
The measure is billed as funding for forest fire preparedness, among other uses, but the tax, like many sales tax measure revenues in other cities, goes into the city’s general fund and may be used for any purpose.
This has led to fierce criticism from taxpayer groups, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, who say cities are misleading residents about the reasons for the increase. Jarvis Group leader Jon Coupal points out that many cities face huge retirement costs for firefighters, police and other retired public servants.
“The summary (of the ballot measure) indicates that it is for essential government services, police, firefighters, kittens and puppies,” Coupal said. “It’s very misleading. They should say it’s a pension tax.
This story was originally published 6 November 2020 3:52 pm.