Almanac

News - August 4, 2010

Supes reject ballot measure to hike county sales tax

by Dave Boyce

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors has rejected a proposal to put a quarter-cent sales tax on the November ballot.

The supervisors took the action in a 3-2 vote Tuesday (July 27). The tax increase would have generated $30 million per year, county spokesman Marshall Wilson said.

Opposing the ballot measure were supervisors Carole Groom, Adrienne Tissier and Mark Church. Supervisors Rich Gordon and Rose Jacobs Gibson voted in favor of putting it on the ballot.

San Mateo County, along with Santa Clara County, has one of the higher sales taxes in the state with a rate of 9.25 percent.

Ms. Groom reasoned that the county needs more time to demonstrate that it has made sufficient cuts and that county services are actually in danger without a tax increase, Mr. Gordon said.

Ms. Tissier and Mr. Church "were more vocal in their comments that this was not the right time (for a tax increase), that the public won't accept it," Mr. Gordon said, adding that he doesn't disagree with their point.

In voting for a ballot measure, Mr. Gordon noted that the supervisors had agreed to a three-part deficit reduction plan: tax increases, labor give-backs and further cuts. This ballot measure, even if voters rejected it, would "start that conversation" about a tax increase, he said.

"I look down the road and I see where we financially are headed and we're moving toward a cliff," Mr. Gordon told The Almanac.

The county has a structural deficit of about $150 million over the next five years, he said. To meet expenses for the 2010-11 budget year, the county is using $90 million from reserves and making $36 million in cuts, with more cuts to come in 2011-12, he added.

"We don't have enough resources to continue putting $90 million in for more than a year or two," he said.

A tax measure can be put before the voters only in a general election when a supervisor is running for office, Mr. Gordon said. The next such election is in 2012.

Revenues from sales and property taxes in the county are flat and real estate transfer tax revenues are down, he said.

Another significant loss: statewide sales tax revenues, which used to help counties pay for law enforcement, has seen "a huge decline," Mr. Gordon said, adding that the county used reserves and general fund money to backfill that loss.

The entire board agreed that it would be a struggle to mount a successful campaign so close to the November election, spokesman Wilson said.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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