Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Sacramento Republic FC players and fans celebrate a goal during a match this month. A proposed sales tax increase would include money to help pay for a new $125 million stadium designed to get the team into Major League Soccer.

Editorial: Sales tax hike for civic amenities in Sacramento County deserves a thorough review

Published: Friday, May. 30, 2014 - 12:03 am

It would be unfair to shoot down the idea of a sales tax hike in Sacramento County to fund a range of civic amenities, including a new soccer stadium. Supporters deserve the chance to make their case that this is the best way for the American River Parkway, Sacramento Zoo and other important nonprofits to generate cash.

Still, this “leisure tax” that is being floated will be a tough sell – and needs much more vetting.

As disclosed Thursday by The Bee’s Dale Kasler, the current proposal calls for the sales tax to increase by one-eighth of a cent, to 8.125 percent countywide. The total tax would be higher in the city of Sacramento – 8.625 percent.

Organizers plan to present a final proposal to the county Board of Supervisors this summer so that it could go before voters in November. That would take the votes of four of the five supervisors.

If the measure makes it to the ballot and two-thirds of voters approve, it would be the third sales tax increase to hit many in the county in two years. In November 2012, voters statewide passed Proposition 30, which increased the state sales tax by a quarter cent starting Jan. 1, 2013, largely to fund schools.

That same election, Sacramento city voters approved Measure U, which raised the local sales tax by a half cent on April 1, 2013. Proceeds are helping restore deep cuts in the police, fire and parks departments.

While those increases are scheduled to expire – the state’s in four years, the city’s in six – this proposed tax would be open-ended. And while those hikes were for basic services, some voters will see the “leisure tax” as paying for frills.

It would raise about $25 million in the first year; $10 million would be divvied up by the county and municipalities. Under the current plan, $4 million would go to the parkway, $2.5 million to the zoo, $700,000 to the Powerhouse Science Center and $500,000 to the B Street Theatre. Another $4.5 million would go to other nonprofits.

What is likely to be the most controversial item, however, is $3 million to help finance a $125 million stadium for Sacramento’s popular new soccer team, Republic FC.

One hurdle is whether voters would look favorably on another grant of tax money to a sports facility so soon after the deal for the planned downtown arena, which calls for a taxpayer subsidy of at least $255 million.

The other cause for concern is that there’s no firm commitment that a new soccer stadium will get Republic FC invited to join Major League Soccer. Team President Warren Smith says that if MLS does not award a franchise, the team would return its share of tax money. It would support about $30 million of the stadium construction costs, with the other $95 million coming from private sources. Before asking taxpayers for help, the team must show it has explored other options, such as ticket surcharges and other fees that fans would pay.

For years, community leaders have been trying to figure out how to fund important civic amenities. Their strategy is that if there’s something in the package for everyone, it would build enough support. By hitching their wagon to a soccer stadium, however, they are taking a big gamble.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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