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Judge overturns Yuba County’s 1 percent sales tax, ruling it was misclassified on ballot

How much will sales tax increase beginning in April?

Sacramento, West Sacramento and Roseville area are among 51 California cities in which sales tax will increase starting April 1, 2019.
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Sacramento, West Sacramento and Roseville area are among 51 California cities in which sales tax will increase starting April 1, 2019.

A Yuba County Superior Court judge invalidated a 1 percent sales tax approved by Yuba County voters last year, finding the measure, which focused on supporting public safety services, was misclassified as a general tax.

The ruling found that Measure K, which passed last November with 53 percent of the vote, should have been placed on the ballot as a special tax – which requires a two-thirds majority for approval. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and two residents sued the county last December, calling the measure an “illegal tax.”

Judge Stephen Berrier wrote in his Monday ruling, based on the text of the ballot language and proposed ordinance, the tax is “is dedicated to specific purposes only and not for general government purposes.” According to the proposed ordinance, the sales tax revenue would be used “entirely to maintain and improve public safety services and essential services.”

“The county argues that the word ‘essential’ in the texts cited makes Measure K a proposed general tax because ‘essential services’ are not specific,” he wrote. “This argument is not persuasive.”

The Yuba County Board of Supervisors voted to appeal the ruling during its Tuesday meeting.

“We’ve always seen it as a general tax,” said county spokesman Russ Brown. “Our position is that it is a general tax and that it was spelled out in the ballot measure.” He declined to comment further on the county’s argument for its appeal.

In a letter to the editor to the Appeal-Democrat prior to the election, Yuba County Supervisor Gary Bradford wrote, “Yuba County public safety officials support Measure K because they know (not think or believe) that they are getting a majority of the revenue raised.”

“All of the front-facing messages from county officials were, this was a tax for the specific purposes of funding public safety and essential services,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Brian Hildreth, in an email.

In general, promising voters specific services or programs gives a tax measure an electoral edge. “The question the court had to answer is what did the voters believe when they voted on Measure K?” Hildreth said.

Yuba County was one of more than a dozen municipalities across the Sacramento region and Central Valley that asked voters to raise sales taxes to help fund city programs. Sacramento, Roseville and West Sacramento all saw sales tax increases this year, as did 48 other California cities.

The county estimated the sales tax would generate $4.3 million a year. Even during legal proceedings, the county has been collecting the 1 percent sales tax since it took effect in April, placing the revenue untouched into a holding trust. The city has raised about $1.2 million so far, Brown said.

Judge ruling on Yuba County 1 percent sales tax Measure K

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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