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Original post made
on Feb 14, 2008
The following letter submitted By Christopher Schmidt to the BOS prior to their approval of the Park sales tax measure reflects my thoughts also.
Subject: Park Tax Redux
I respectfully urge all county supervisors to resist the entreaties of the "Parks for the Future" special interest groups seeking--once
again--to increase the taxes of all San Mateo County to fund their pet
(1) This is the electoral equivalent of putting the taxpayers in
double-jeopardy for a proposed tax that has already been rejected once before, fair-and-square, when put before the voters in November 2006.
That election made abundantly clear that there is little public
support for raising the sales tax in this manner.
In a county with over 700,000 residents, the 'yes' votes of only
107,418 voters represented no consent of the governed--nor was it even close.
While, perhaps, it might be possible for a club of well-heeled
activists supporting this measure to get a slightly larger number of
'yes' voters to the polls this June, it would be a subversion of
democracy if the tax could be raised in this manner: A victory of
that kind would represent nothing more than a manipulation of voter
turnout--not a change in the true sentiment of the San Mateo County
public, most of which is non-voting.
The state of Massachusetts has a law that forbids putting the same
measure before the voters twice in 6 years. I would urge county
supervisors to adopt the same policy to prevent "double jeopardy" type abuses of the voter approval process.
(2) The county government should not endorse any measure that reduces the county government's budgeting flexibility (not to mention the citizens' budgeting flexibility). That should be obvious, but apparently it needs stating.
While the measure does not say "Let's increase park budgets at the
expense of all other county budgets", that is exactly what could
happen if passed.
It is an elementary principle of economics that increasing taxes
discourages taxable transactions. When the state raised the sales and income taxes in 1991, tax revenue was reduced the following two years.
Although there are a hundred influences that affect tax revenue, let's imagine for the sake of illustration that increasing the sales tax one-eighth of one percent might reduce sales by one-eighth of one percent, and therefore reduce sales tax revenue by one-eighth of one percent.
In that scenario park budgets would go up roughly $16 million while
county and city budgets would lose roughly $16 million. Of course,
park budget advocates would blame "the economy" rather their new tax
that took the money out of consumers' pocketbooks, but taxes have
consequences, and consumers have only a fixed amount of money to work with.
Now, I think that most of the money would come out of consumer budgets rather than out of other county budgets, but, either way, when times get tough, the problem is the same: If this measure were law, neither the affected departments nor consumers could get their money back from the park budgets when times were tough. It's essentially a measure that would require supervisors (and consumers) to "fiddle while Rome
(3) The language of the measure, if similar to 2006, is ridiculously
overcomplicated and inequitable. Supervisors should not codify an
unseemly proposed division of the booty in law. If you insist on
putting a tax hike on the ballot, just put a simple tax hike on the
ballot. Don't tie your hands by committing to a spending formula that looks like the charter document of a pirate ship.
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