Three separate sales tax measures are on the November ballot: In Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo, voters will decide whether to extend an existing half-cent sales tax increase, and in Atascadero, citizens will vote on whether to enact a brand new tax.
The base sales tax rate in California is 7.5 percent. If the measures pass, the sales tax rate will remain at 8 percent in Pismo and San Luis Obispo and will increase to 8 percent in Atascadero, from 7.5 percent. That’s entirely reasonable — in many California cities, the rate is 9 percent, and in a handful, it’s 10 percent.
A half-cent sales tax increase is barely discernible — it adds a nickel to a $10 purchase — yet it generates millions of dollars that directly benefit residents.
Here’s a city-by-city look at the three measures and why we support them:
Atascadero is the only incorporated city in the county that still has the sales tax at 7.5 percent. If Measure F passes, the sales tax will increase to 8 percent for 12 years. An advisory measure also is on the ballot that asks voters whether they want the money to be used primarily for street projects.
Both measures are nobrainers; as the mayor of Atascadero has noted, road repair in the city is a “critical unmet need.” A half-cent sales tax boost would generate between $1.7 million and $2 million to allow the city to get serious about fixing its roads.
Not that we fault the city for the condition of its streets; the fact is, for many years, city governments saw their funds drastically cut by a state government desperate to balance its own budget.
As a result, cities and counties put off projects and many have fallen woefully behind in keeping their drainage systems, sidewalks, parks and other infrastructure in decent shape. If they allow these needs to go unmet for too long, it will wind up costing much more later on.
That’s the situation in Grover Beach, where 65 percent of the city’s streets have been rated as “poor” or “failed.” The problem has grown so bad, the city has placed a $48 million bond measure on the November ballot to raise funds from property owners.
We believe it’s far better to take care of problems before they get so bad. And for Atascadero residents, a half-cent sales tax is a good way to do it.
Measure I in Pismo Beach would extend the 8 percent sales tax rate for an additional 12 years — and that appears to be one of the major points of contention. Some Pismo residents believe 12 years is too long; they would prefer six or eight years.
There are advantages to the longer period, however. It allows the city to do longrange planning for multiyear projects, and enables Pismo to qualify for better interest rates, should it borrow money for some of the larger and costlier capital projects.
But here’s the biggest reason to approve Measure I: The city of Pismo Beach has done an excellent job in allocating its sales tax to capital improvements. To date, more than $3.8 million has been spent on infrastructure projects, including seven miles of street paving, sidewalk repairs at 62 locations, pier rehabilitation; bluff protection; and fence repair. These projects aren’t particularly exciting or showy, but they are nonetheless extremely necessary.
By approving Measure I, voters will provide the city with the funds it needs to carry out additional projects that will greatly enhance quality of life. Those include construction of adedicated pedestrian and bike path in Shell Beach; landscaping, lighting and parking upgrades downtown; improvements to Price Historic Park; and renovating the old brick City Hall that’s sat vacant for so many years. Those projects won’t be possible, at least not in the foreseeable future, without the $1.3 million per year provided by the sales tax.
And here’s the kicker: In Pismo Beach, approximately 70 percent of the city’s half-cent sales tax revenue is paid by tourists, according to a city consultant who monitors sales tax receipts. By approving Measure I, voters will continue to take advantage of an enviable opportunity to generate revenue for projects that will benefit both tourists and locals.
San Luis Obispo
The city’s half-cent sales tax generates approximately $6.6 million per year — in excess of $40 million since it was approved by voters in 2006.
That money has been used to pave streets; hire additional police and fire employees; acquire open space; refurbish the senior center; replace playground equipment; repair and scrub sidewalks; improve downtown signage; replace street lights; improve flood protection; refurbish the skate park — and that’s just a partial list.
Loss of that revenue would be a big hit, resulting in a discernible reduction in city services.
Measure G will extend the tax for another eight years. We see no valid reason not to do so.
Aside from voicing a general antipathy toward taxes, opponents are cherry picking what they see as egregious examples of misspending. They’re also using this as an excuse to rail against high salaries and pensions.
To be clear, we haven’t always agreed with all Measure Y expenditures and we, too, have huge concerns about out-of-whack salaries and pensions, but this is a problem that has been building for many, many years all over the state.
Blaming current officials for past mistakes — and using that as a reason to defeat tax measures — is unfair, especially since they’ve taken the first steps in turning the corner by adopting two-tier systems that offer less generous pensions to new hires.
If voters are concerned about how sales tax money is — or isn’t — spent, we recommend they get involved in the budgeting process.
That worked for the Downtown Association, which persuaded the San Luis Obispo City Council to hire two more police officers for downtown. It worked for skaters, who lobbied for a renovated skate park, now under construction.
Measure G includes a provision for independent annual audits, public goal-setting and budgeting and a Citizens’ Oversight Commission. There are plenty of opportunities for involvement.
Bottom line: The half-cent sales tax is a relatively painless way to generate needed revenue. It costs the average San Luis Obispo resident an estimated $4 per month. And, as in Pismo Beach, the majority of the sales tax revenue is paid by tourists and nonresidents; an analysis by Strategic Economics found that San Luis Obispo residents pay only 25 percent of the $6.6 million in annual revenue.
Leaving those millions of dollars on the table doesn’t make sense.
The Tribune strongly supports passage of Measure G.