Voters asked to hike sales tax | August 1, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - August 1, 2012

Voters asked to hike sales tax

by Sandy Brundage

It might be like making a speech to a hostile audience when the county writes its argument in support of a half-cent sales tax increase for the November ballot. After all, voters defeated two of three tax hikes in June, and very nearly killed the third, a tax on rental car businesses that passed by only 197 votes.

Undaunted, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on July 24, with Supervisor Dave Pine dissenting, to put the sales tax increase to a vote. The proposed ordinance would raise the county sales tax to 8.75 percent from 8.25 percent for the next 10 years.

Supervisors Adrienne Tissier and Don Horsley proposed the increase, citing the need to maintain critical county services in the face of continuing government budget cuts and rising employee benefit expenses.

"We have done all that we can legally do" to reduce benefit costs, Mr. Horsley said in a press release. "Now the community has an important decision to make: Are we going to continue to see the erosion of our parks and roads, longer wait times to see a doctor in our network of clinics and cutbacks in services to children or are we going to take a bold step to protect our community's health and safety?"

Mr. Pine worried the increase might hurt those who can least afford it. "There are many important needs in San Mateo County particularly within our health-care delivery system. I believe a quarter-cent sales tax, combined with other revenues which are now growing, would meet those needs," he told the Almanac.

"But a half-cent sales tax may cause harm to local businesses, disproportionately impact lower-income residents, and make it more difficult for local cities or other agencies, such as Caltrain, to also levy a sales tax for other critical needs. For these reasons, I supported a more modest tax proposal."

Staff projected the increase will add about $60 million a year to the county's general fund after state administrative fees are paid. The Board of Supervisors will control how to spend the money; helping county hospitals, after-school programs and parks were raised as possibilities.

It's not the only tax increase going to voters. Also on the Nov. 6 ballot: state Proposition 30, which would raise the state-wide sales tax by 0.25 percentage points. If voters approve both measures, the sales tax rate in San Mateo County would go to 9 percent, a rate that would tie with Alameda County as the highest of nine Bay Area counties, according to data provided by Mr. Pine.


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