Editorials

Begin debate on Sacramento sales tax extension now, not later

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers his final State of the City address in January. He is urging the City Council to start debating the renewal of the Measure U sales tax.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson delivers his final State of the City address in January. He is urging the City Council to start debating the renewal of the Measure U sales tax. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson won’t be in office to reap the political benefits, but he’s wisely urging the City Council to start the discussion now about asking voters to renew the Measure U sales tax.

He knows how important that revenue – $42 million in 2015-16 – has been to restoring public safety and other core services slashed during the recession. In a budget priorities memo he’s presenting to the council Tuesday night, Johnson says by winning re-approval well ahead of when the half-cent sales tax expires in March 2019, the city can avoid the dreaded “fiscal cliff,” better plan its finances, and perhaps even start expanding key programs and services.

It seems unlikely that this council, during an election campaign, will decide to put the tax extension on the November ballot, which likely will be crowded with other tax measures. But if the council wants a high-turnout presidential election, November is certainly worth considering.

And even if the council takes a pass, every mayoral and council candidate ought to answer this question unequivocally: Do you support renewing Measure U?

It passed with 64 percent support in 2012, and in a poll done for the mayor’s office last month, 72 percent of respondents said they would favor extending it.

This is the second year that Johnson has sought to put his stamp on the budget, which in previous years had been proposed by the city manager. He mostly got his way last year.

This year, even though he leaves office in December, Johnson is proposing a bigger agenda.

On public safety, Johnson wants to continue adding 15 police officers a year ($1.8 million a year), further diversify the police force ($1 million a year), add two park rangers ($170,000 a year) and upgrade Fire Station 10 in south Sacramento ($5.2 million).

On economic development, the mayor wants a new position to coordinate an “innovation district’ in the downtown railyard and to assign staff to work on the medical innovation zone in Oak Park. Johnson also proposes expansions in youth initiatives, including his anti-gang task force. It’s possible that new youth programs could be funded from a June ballot measure that would set aside revenues from eventually taxing marijuana cultivation.

At the same time, Johnson preaches fiscal responsibility, calling for continuing to build the city’s rainy day fund and whittling away at the city’s unfunded liability for retiree benefits.

City Manager John Shirey will propose his own budget this spring. Council members need to carefully consider all spending priorities. As he did last year, Johnson provided a helpful starting point.

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