A Sacramento plan to fund city youth services through marijuana tax dollars is back in play, despite failing by a slim margin at the ballot box during the recent election.
Three council members will propose in coming weeks revisiting the idea of taxing marijuana cultivation and manufacturing to generate money for city youth programs.
A similar proposal, Measure Y, fell short of passage by about 1 percentage point during the recent election. More than 65 percent of voters cast ballots in its favor, but it required a two-thirds vote for passage because it would have imposed a special 5 percent tax on marijuana businesses. The new plan calls for a 4 percent tax – the regular city business tax – and could be passed by the council without voter approval.
Eric Guerra, who is backing the idea along with Jay Schenirer and Rick Jennings, said the strong voter support was justification for reviving the idea.
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“I don’t call that failing,” he said of the poll numbers. “That to me says there is a strong call from the city to address the issues of youth.”
Unlike Measure Y, which locked funds into kids’ programs in perpetuity, the revised plan would only make it a recommendation and call for the council to make an annual determination on where the funds go. While taxes would be accounted for in a new City of Sacramento Children’s Fund, the council would be able to move them to other areas of the general fund on an annual basis during the budget process if it determined a greater need elsewhere.
I don’t call that failing. That to me says there is a strong call from the city to address the issues of youth.
Council member Eric Guerra, on Measure Y
When the council debated the idea of a ballot measure in February, critics protested tying the funds to one purpose that could only be changed through another ballot measure. That discussion along with other criticisms will likely emerge again as the council is asked to debate the issue once more.
“That was a real problem for me and that was the heart of my objection,” said Councilman Jeff Harris, who voted against the original proposal.
He thinks there may be public safety costs associated with increased marijuana businesses in Sacramento that could require additional funding for fire and police services. “That money’s got to come from somewhere and it could be that using some of this medical marijuana tax would be the right thing to do,” he said.
Councilman Allen Warren said that he would like to tie funds to ZIP codes that are most affected by marijuana businesses. Currently, the majority of dispensaries in Sacramento are located in his Del Paso Heights district – including a cluster of five dispensaries near Highway 80 and El Camino – along with the central city and District 6, which includes Tahoe Park.
He also believes minority communities should be “in line to receive these funds,” because they have historically faced a disproportionate impact from illicit drugs.
“Look at how many black people are in jail because of marijuana,” he said.
He said allotting some funds by geography to areas that host the businesses could not only “be a constant flow of revenue into these communities” but also encourage some type of marijuana enterprises in other areas of the city, although regulations make it difficult to locate them in densely residential areas.
Schenirer said that he hopes to win broader support on the council for the new proposal, which has yet to be written, by including more leeway in how funds are spent.
“I think the bottom line … was retaining council flexibility,” said Schenirer. Under the revised idea, “anything in there could be changed by a council action.”
The proposal would also differ from Measure Y by lowering or not setting a percentage of funds for nonprofits. Under the ballot measure, 70 percent of revenue after administrative costs would have gone to private organizations, with the remaining 30 percent devoted to city programs. No quotas are currently set for the new plan, but a greater percentage would likely go to city-run programs.
“We have a track record with good city programs, and we should focus on those first,” said Guerra. He added that after-school care programs 4th “R” and START would be his “big priorities.” Both have run deficits in recent years, and the council has threatened to eliminate or reduce those services if other providers can fill the need.
Schenirer and Guerra also said they would like to see civic lessons become a mandated part of the city’s approach to youth services. That would include teaching leadership skills and community involvement no matter the primary purpose of a program to create an overarching youth “pedagogy” that is about “more than just having a good time at the pool,” said Guerra.
He described an after-school program he participated in as a youth that brought in California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso to talk about civic leadership.
“I clearly remember that conversation,” he said, adding it had a “huge impact” on him.
To facilitate a unified approach to youth services, Schenirer said the proposal would include language to create a new city department that would oversee all youth services. That proposal will likely generate controversy because youth programs are spread between numerous departments with multiple structures, programs and labor agreements.
“There are youth services embedded in almost everything,” said Harris. “So how do you tease out those parts? I’m not sure it’s practical.”
Schenirer said that he is looking for a grant to fund a “transition document” that would detail how a new youth department would be structured and function.
He added that he hopes the proposal will be heard at the Budget and Audit Committee in July and debated by the full council in August.
Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049