Worried Sacramento won’t spend your sales taxes wisely? This will help

Mayor Darrell Steinberg listens July 31 to City Council member Jay Schenirer discuss the Nov. 6 ballot measure to extend and increase  the Measure U sales tax.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg listens July 31 to City Council member Jay Schenirer discuss the Nov. 6 ballot measure to extend and increase the Measure U sales tax. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

To get Sacramento voters to approve the Measure U sales tax hike on Nov. 6 – and to make sure it works if it passes – creating a robust citizens advisory committee is absolutely essential.

The city’s initial proposal for such a group is on the right track.

The committee for the existing Measure U only looks at how the city spends money after the fact. But under a draft going before the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee on Tuesday, a new advisory committee would recommend how to spend Measure U money to “support inclusive community economic development.”

In addition, the committee would review reports evaluating how well the city’s investments are working — how many jobs they are creating, how much they are reducing unemployment and how much economic growth they are generating.

Just as important as expanding its role, the new committee would wisely be far more diverse than the existing five-member committee.

Its 11 members all would have to be Sacramento residents. At least two must live in a disadvantaged neighborhood, two must have personal or professional experience with homelessness or housing, two must know about economic or workforce development, one must have experience with community crime or mental health treatment, and one must be between 13 and 24 years old.

That means a cross-section of Sacramento would have the ear of the mayor and City Council on issues of race and economic justice, which moved to the forefront after the police killing of Stephon Clark in March.

The mayor and council members would still make final decisions on how to spend the nearly $100 million a year in projected revenues. Half the money is expected to stay with fire, police, parks and other departments that now get proceeds from the existing half-cent Measure U sales tax. It’s the revenue from the additional half cent that is really at issue.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other supporters say the new money would be used for affordable housing and homeless services, job training for teenagers and other programs to boost struggling neighborhoods. But since the ballot measure is a general tax, any promises they make during the campaign are not legally binding.

City staffers spent time looking at similar citizens committees in other cities across California — five that have populations of at least 200,000 and have passed general sales taxes since 2012, plus Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, which passed local soda taxes. These panels review financial information and issue reports, and their recommendations are also non-binding. They range in size from five members in Long Beach to 20 in San Jose.

In Sacramento, as in four of these other cities, the committee members would be nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council. They would serve four-year terms, but would be staggered with five serving until the end of 2020 and six until the end of 2022.

However the committee is set up, it will only succeed if knowledgeable and committed residents of Sacramento apply for seats. If Measure U passes, we hope they do.