Measure J from the November 8 ballot is one of many municipal measures to increase local sales tax.
San Anselmo’s J measure would increase sales tax by half a cent, raising the sales tax charged for goods purchased locally to 9.25%, the same charge as San Rafael.
This is the state limit, without the need for state legislation to raise it higher.
Key to the San Anselmo measure is a nine-year period, where the city would have to come back to voters to renew it.
This means the city would have to prove that it spent the revenue on what it promised.
In the case of San Anselmo, as with the first voter increase approved in 2013, the focus will be on fixing city streets. Since this increase was enacted, the city has made steady progress on this front.
“We’ve been true to our word,” said Ford Greene, a veteran city council member.
The wording of the ballot, however, leaves the door open to the possibility of spending tax revenues on other needs. This formulation is not uncommon since a so-called “general” tax only needs a majority vote to pass. If the need is specific, a tax measure requires a two-thirds majority to be adopted.
This difference is counter-intuitive, but it’s the rule in California.
This dynamic opened up Measure J to criticism as a “blank check” for City Hall.
The city council provided voters with a list of possible targets for Measure J funds, estimated at about $2.4 million. This list includes water conservation measures, maintaining fire and ambulance response times, and improving fire protection.
These are priorities on which few people would disagree.
The city, however, should exercise caution in avoiding tapping the revenue for long-term expenses, such as salaries, given the defined duration of Measure J. Investing the revenue in capital needs is a wiser approach.
Greene said the city council is considering making Measure J “permanent”, requiring another measure to be put on the ballot to overturn it. Asking voters for the tax to be renewed, after the city proved it had delivered on its promises, seemed a better path, he said.
If the city council hesitates to keep its promises, we are sure that it will provide opponents of the renewal of the tax with plenty of political material. In fact, ratepayers should not hesitate to point out any deviation from the council’s Measure J promise.
The city should be responsible for how it upholds the trust of voters.
The appointed oversight committee should be broad and politically independent with audits of city records.
Sales tax means locals and visitors will pay it, as they both use local roads and emergency services. Compared to other local taxes. The J measurement is small – 50 cents more on a $100 purchase.
That’s not going to keep buyers away from San Anselmo.
The failure of Measure J, says campaign leader Gage Houser, means the city will start to lose ground again in maintaining its roads. Not keeping up with maintenance means paying a lot more to fix them.
On the other hand, after nine years of the Measure J tax, if the town‘s roads show no measurable improvement, voters deserve to be much less enthusiastic about the idea of extending it.
The city council underlined its promise by not making Measure J “permanent”. He still has a lot of work to do on his streets, his roads and his constituents. J measurement is recommended as a way to get the job done.
Amendments for the November elections are being prepared. Find them as they are published on marinij.com/opinion/amendments.