Our hearts are with those who back a June ballot measure to boost children’s programs in Sacramento through a tax on commercial marijuana cultivation.
But our heads tell us that Measure Y would unwisely tie the City Council’s hands in making spending decisions and dealing with the next budget crunch.
However sympathetic the cause, voters should say no.
There’s no denying that the measure’s main champion, City Councilman Jay Schenirer, is passionate about how we’re letting down our children and is right that spending a little now will save much more later. He should channel that energy into convincing his colleagues as they prioritize the city’s many needs. Two who oppose the measure, Angelique Ashby and Jeff Harris, pledged that they would support more money for children’s programs in budget talks starting next month. Children’s advocates should hold them to that.
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It’s ballot-box budgeting, setting aside money for a specific purpose. There’s no policy link between what is being taxed and where the revenue goes since marijuana is illegal for children. As with other sin taxes, there’s a perverse incentive for the city to allow more cultivation to increase revenue.
Most of the estimated $5 million a year that would be generated by the tax would go to community nonprofits, which would apply to use the money for after-school, summer jobs and other programs that have long waiting lists.
Schenirer says he pushed to get this measure on the June ballot instead of November to avoid confusion with an expected statewide measure to legalize recreational marijuana use.
The timing might be good politics, but it’s bad for policy – and for voters.
Voters should have as much information as possible. But they won’t know how many marijuana grows and manufacturing facilities the city will allow, where they might be or under what rules they’ll operate since the city is unlikely to pass an ordinance until after June 7.
And voters won’t know the fate of recreational legalization, which, if approved, could lead to even more cultivation – and increase the amount of money set aside from the 5 percent tax.
If the measure fails to receive the necessary two-thirds majority, a planned 4 percent tax on cultivation will take effect once the rules are set, with revenue going into the general fund and the council deciding how to spend it.
Another major concern is the close cooperation with the marijuana industry. Initially, Schenirer wanted to increase the existing tax on marijuana dispensaries, as well as to tax cultivation. But the industry objected.
It agreed to the current measure, and will be bankrolling the bulk of the “vote yes” campaign, which Schenirer said could total $200,000. By passing this measure, the industry guarantees that the 5 percent tax would be locked in. The tax could only be raised with another ballot measure.
It’s not clear how much of a “vote no” push there will be. Ashby, however, is urging voters to oppose the measure as she runs for mayor. Her main opponent, former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, supports it, unwisely.
Our endorsement for mayor is yet to come, but on this issue, Ashby is right.
Yes on Measures X and Z
City voters also will decide two other measures on the June 7 ballot, and they’re both clear “yes” votes.
▪ Measure X would extend for 10 more years the existing parcel tax for the city’s public libraries set to expire on June 30, 2017. It raises about $5 million a year and amounts to $31 a year for the typical single-family homeowner. Voters supported libraries by approving an additional $12 parcel tax in 2014. This extension requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
▪ Measure Z would fix a scheduling issue that since 2008 has forced the city to swear in City Council members at different times, depending on whether they won in June or November. Under this measure, the entire new council would take office at the final meeting in December.