Editorial

Measure Y needs more input and transparency

City should make it a general tax and say where it goes

letters@thetribunenews.comJuly 22, 2013 

Was there ever any doubt that the city of SLO would seek an extension of the half-cent sales tax increase passed in 2006?

Not really. The only question was when — not whether — the city would put the measure on the ballot.

Now we know. As Tribune writer AnnMarie Cornejo reported last week, the City Council has committed to putting some form of sales tax on the November 2014 ballot.

There are two choices: A general tax measure, which requires only simple majority approval to pass, and a special purpose tax that delineates where the money goes. That requires two-thirds voter approval.

The general tax is the obvious way to go.

The bar for a special purpose tax is too high, and we also believe it’s good for the city to have some flexibility in the event of unforeseen circumstances, such as — heaven forbid — another recession.

It would be a waste of time to dither over what type of tax to put on the ballot, and we urge the nine-member advisory committee that will help craft the new measure, as well as the opinion pollsters and $10,000 facilitator who will help lead public meetings, to avoid that.

Instead, concentrate on what went right — and wrong — with the implementation of the current Measure Y. Then, craft anew measure that will address any deficiencies.

For instance, figure out how to best ensure that public input on how tax revenue is spent is solicited from a wide range of SLO residents — not just those who fill out surveys and come to meetings.

Perhaps consider the example of Vallejo. That community invited all residents — whether or not they were registered voters — to take part in a special advisory election to rank 33 projects to improve the city.

Also, work on improving transparency so that citizens know exactly where the money is going. That information is available now in several forms — for example, there are annual audits of Measure Y expenditures and an annual Measure Y community forum — but the data could be presented in a more user-friend ly manner.

For example, the home page on the city’s website has only asmall, easy-to-miss link to Measure Y. And a map of capital improvement projects on the Measure Y page is cluttered and includes projects not funded with Measure Y revenue.

There should be aquick, relatively painless way to see running totals of the money collected, how it’s been spent, and the progress that’s been made in meeting the initial Measure Y goals.

We understand that unforeseen circumstances — the binding arbitration decision that granted police officers huge raises and, of course, the recession — affected the city’s ability to meet those goals. But we still want to see where the money went, and we’ll spend the months leading up to the election taking a closer look at that.

Because here’s the bottom line: If the city has been a good steward of Measure Y revenue — if it’s made substantial progress in meeting its goals — a new sales tax measure will sell itself.

GOALS OF MEASURE Y

The goals of Measure Y, as stated in the 2006 ballot measure:

• Neighborhood street paving and pothole repair

• Traffic congestion relief

• Public safety, including restoring eliminated traffic patrol, Fire Marshal and fire/paramedic training positions

• Flood protection

• Senior citizen services/facilities

• Neighborhood code enforcement

• Open space preservation

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