Local Elections

Voters approved Sacramento’s sales tax increase. Who will decide how it’s spent?

Sacramento residents Tuesday approved a sales tax increase, but it will be about seven months until the city receives any extra revenue to fund new projects or programs.

So what happens in the meantime?

For months, Mayor Darrell Steinberg has been proposing a wide range of ideas, from expanding an internship program for teens to business incentives and riverfront development projects. Steinberg plans to announce later this month how he, two committees, the City Council, the public and city staff will work together to determine what projects to fund first.

“There’s a lot of people rightfully asking questions about how this is going to work,” Steinberg said. “We want to lay that out with your input in a very clear way within the next two weeks.”

Next month, members of the public will be able to apply for a spot on a 15-member advisory committee, Sacramento Assistant City Manager Leyne Milstein said. That committee will be up and running in January or February, after the council’s Personnel and Public Employees Committee approves the members, Milstein said. Their meetings will be open to the public.

That committee, approved by the council last month, must include at least one member between the ages of 16 and 24; one with affordable housing or homelessness experience; one from a taxpayer organization; one with experience with business, economic development or workforce development; one with experience in community trauma, mental health or community-based crime reduction; and one experienced in youth-focused adult education, public health or environmental justice.

Steinberg expects the city to create another committee, called the investment committee, that will also have a role in the process, he said Thursday.

As the committee meetings are ongoing, city staff will be drafting the proposed fiscal year 2019-2020 budget, Milstein said. Because of that, it may or may not be possible for the Measure U-funded projects to be included in the budget that will be released in May, Milstein said.

“We’re still figuring out how we marry these things up,” Milstein said. “That is a work in progress.”

Steinberg said he plans to announce by the end of the year which projects he proposes the city fund first with the new money. Each project receiving new Measure U funding will require council approval.

Meanwhile, the city has roughly $15 million in current Measure U revenue in reserves that could now be spent on one-time projects, Milstein said. City officials set that money aside in case Measure U failed, which would have meant the city lost $50 million annually from the original half-cent sales tax it has relied on since 2012.

Milstein expects city staff to receive direction from the council on what to do with the reserves in January or February, she said.

Because Measure U was written to pass with a simple majority, the revenue is not tied to specific projects. Detractors said residents should vote against the measure because there is nothing stopping city officials from spending the money on police and fire pension payments.

Steinberg has said the lion’s share of the new money will not go to pensions, but to a variety of inclusive projects that will create jobs, attract new businesses, expand youth programs, as well as revitalize the riverfront and commercial corridors.

“There may in fact be good reasons to use some of the resources to bolster essential services and address our homeless crisis. But I will say for myself, and I say it with a good heart, that I will resist any efforts to use the second half cent to merely plug holes or to address long-term deficits,” Steinberg said Thursday.

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