When Sacramento voters decide Nov. 6 on Measure U, a proposed permanent 1-cent increase in the city’s sales tax, it will come down to trust, fairness and need.
Based on past behavior and future costs, can we trust city politicians’ seemingly endless and vague promises of how our higher taxes would be spent? Is it fair to hit Sacramento residents, who suffer from one of the highest poverty rates in the country, with a sales tax hike of $200 per person ($800 for a family of four)? And, finally, does city government really need the $100 million from the new Measure U when its revenues jumped 16 percent in the past two years?
The answer to these questions is no, no and no.
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City politicians promised us that the first Measure U, passed in 2012 during the Great Recession, would be a temporary six-year tax until the city’s other revenues recovered. Boy, have they recovered: annual city revenues are now $120 million higher than in 2012, not counting the nearly $50 million a year the current Measure U brings in.
The City Council broke its promise. But what’s truly deceptive are the grandiose promises that Mayor Darrell Steinberg has been making over how the additional $50 million from the new Measure U would be spent. Since it is a general tax increase, no spending promise is enforceable.
In any case, the mayor’s promises are downright impossible to fulfill. Why? Because the city has been advised by CalPERS that it can expect to fork over $62 million in higher city pension contributions by 2022-23 – a legal obligation that will vacuum up every new dime Measure U would raise and then some.
As a highly regressive tax hike, Measure U’s burdens will fall most heavily on modest-income families, seniors on fixed incomes, the poor and the homeless – the folks who lack the discretionary income to pay higher taxes without sacrificing necessities of life.
And by what moral reckoning is it fair to impose what would be the highest sales tax rate in the region on the residents of Sacramento who have the lowest per capita incomes in the county?
Eye on Sacramento just released a report – a “Blueprint for a Post-Measure U Sacramento” – that identifies $125 million in spending reductions the city could implement without reducing any core services. The spending reductions would actually free up more money than Measure U would raise – resources that the city could spend on priorities such as solving homelessness, dealing with our housing crisis and improving the futures of our kids.
Craig Powell is president of Eye on Sacramento, a local government watchdog and policy group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.