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Guest Opinion: a new ‘forever tax’ isn’t the answer for Citrus Heights

By Bruce Lee–
I listened with great interest to the July 23 Citrus Heights City Council meeting regarding the proposed one-cent sales tax increase for the city.

Measure M: Citrus Heights council votes 4-1 to put $12M sales tax increase on ballot

I wanted to hear the rationale behind this significant tax increase, particularly after Measure A (the Sacramento Transportation Authority half-cent, 40-year sales tax increase) was just pulled off the November 2020 ballot. The measure was deemed unviable at this time of massive unemployment due to the COVID crisis and economic meltdown. Indeed, many jurisdictions pulled their sales tax proposals off the ballot due to this very poor timing.

Measure A: $8B tax measure to fund roads, transit won’t go on Nov ballot

Last month the Placer County Transportation Agency pulled its proposed sales tax increase. The Bay Area and Riverside did the same. A Contra Costa tax measure failed in March, after earlier positive polling.

Per the July 15 staff report on Measure A, “should any organized opposition materialize, the measure will not be viable.” That was a 40-year, half-cent increase; and with the Citrus Heights’ “forever,” full cent increase, I am sure that “organized opposition” will materialize. If Sacramento County with its population of 1.55 million can organize opposition, how much easier in a city of 89,000.

As President of SacTax (Sacramento Taxpayers Association), our duty is to advocate for taxpayers within Sacramento County and many issues will add to the burdens of residents and taxpayers… including the Split Roll Property Tax Proposition which would erode Proposition 13 protections for homeowners.

I do understand the financial concerns of Citrus Heights. I served in local elected office for years, and am familiar with roadway, public safety, and other various issues. The city has a two-year problem until millions of property taxes are returned annually. This does not negate that fact that certain taxes are wiser than others.

Though several council members implied in their comments, that there may never be a “right time” to increase taxes, some seasons are more foolish than other times. A forever, full-cent tax during a pandemic when people are struggling to survive portrays the city council as being heartless … which I am sure is not their intent or the public perception they want to extend.

Over 12 percent of your population lives below the poverty line, and that was before the pandemic. Almost 17 percent are economically disadvantaged minorities. 67.5 percent have no college AA degree or less education.

As the Coalition Chair to defeat Measure A, I worked with a wide array of constituents, including the NAACP, National Action Network, and SacLatino community. It was eye opening to see life and taxes from their perspective.

According to Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP:

“We believe that Sacramento families and local businesses simply cannot afford another cost of living increase. In every corner of our community, we are experiencing sudden job loss and a drastic reduction in income due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Regarding Measure A), placing a tax increase on the ballot would be done in bad-faith with the voters … and severely limit … the ability to generate revenue in the future.”

Per Dr. Tecoy Porter, President of the Sacramento National Action Network regarding Measure A:

“Simply put, consideration of the … tax increase on the November 2020 ballot is at odds with the mission of our organization and best interest of our members. Should the measure appear on the ballot this fall, we will have no choice but to oppose it. …. It is clear to us that the appetite for increased local taxes is at an all-time low. … Voting yes … on a tax plan simply so ‘we can see what happens in November’ is a sad void of leadership ….Postponing the measure until 2022 communicates to constituents … that their input is not only valued but listened to.”

Perhaps you or I may not be adversely impacted by a tax increase. Maybe we have comfortable incomes. Maybe we have government or union-protected jobs that provide security. However, the vast majority of people do not have these luxuries. I know these people. I work with these people, who live and struggle paycheck to paycheck, or today without any paychecks.

Let me please conclude:

• A “forever” tax with no sunset is generally a poor policy (and to say that the people can rally together in the future to rescind the tax is “pie in the sky.”)
• The proposal increases government revenue in a regressive manner. Other options exist.
• This matter had very limited public exposure. Evidently Citrus Heights spent 20 months talking to people about their general priorities, but that is not the same thing as talking with people about a specific tax measure at a specific time. The city did poll 404 people of 89,000 (less than ½ percent), but that is not a replacement for earnest public debate.
• The Citizen Oversight provided in the measure is after-the-fact, with no authority – it’s virtually useless.
• There are no spending guarantees. Nothing prevents these taxes from going to salary increases, pensions, or pet projects voters do not even want.

My comments are not exhaustive. However, I believe they should cause everyone to reconsider the pursuit of this tax increase and its viability.

Bruce Lee

SacTax stands ready to aid Citrus Heights as it seeks its way through the next couple of years until its full measure of property tax revenue is restored to the city. Indeed, a two-year problem does not necessarily warrant a “forever” solution.

Bruce Lee is president of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association.

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