Citizens group forms to support SLO sales tax measure

A group of advocates in favor of a ballot measure that seeks to reauthorize San Luis Obispo’s half-percent sales tax increase has emerged — launching a citizen-based campaign to pass it.

The SLO Citizens for Measure G committee is composed of business leaders, past city advisory board members and elected officials, and other key players in the community representing environmental interests.

The measure would extend the half-percent sales tax increase originally passed by voters in 2006. If voters don’t approve the new measure, called Measure G, in November, the tax will expire March 31, 2015.

Supporters say extending the tax increase is necessary to reinforce the city’s financial stability and continue to make improvements to city infrastructure; opponents, however, worry the money to date hasn’t been spent how voters intended.

The committee has three co-chairs: Clint Pearce, president of Madonna Enterprises; Andrea Pease, architect and principal in Balance Green Consulting; and Pierre Rademaker, owner of Rademaker Design.

“When going through the Great Recession, the city had to make some tough decisions,” Pearce said. “But the bottom line is the city did spend a lot of that money on preserving open space, making capital improvements, and on the safety of the downtown — things that voters had in mind when they approved Measure Y.”

Several of the members on the SLO Citizens for Measure G were also actively involved in the campaign to pass two measures that overturned binding arbitration and allowed the city to create a tiered pension plan in 2011.

No clear committee has yet come forward to fight passage of Measure G. However, a ballot argument against it, filed with the city in mid-July was co-authored by Peg Pinard, former mayor and council member of San Luis Obispo; Richard Schmidt, a former planning commissioner; and Keith Gurnee, a planner, urban designer and former council member.

They argue that because the sales tax increase is a general tax measure, it can be spent on anything, including salaries and pensions.

The opponents also argue that the city continues to increase its spending on salaries and pensions, while not spending more on open space, traffic relief and street construction.

Some residents have long expressed concerns the city was not spending Measure Y revenue on the improvements that had been promised.

Pearce said that added safeguards to Measure G such as a citizens’ oversight committee and a new city fiscal responsibility philosophy should help address those concerns.

The city’s current budget includes $6.7 million in expected Measure Y revenue, which accounts for about 12 percent of its general fund. The measure has brought an additional $36.2 million into city coffers since it was passed.

Capital improvements such as street paving, storm drain replacement and new bike paths account for 60 percent of Measure Y expenditures, according to Wayne Padilla, the city’s director of finance and information technology.

The remaining 40 percent is spent on 17 full-time staff positions, including two neighborhood services specialists, parks maintenance workers, a full-time fire marshal and two new downtown daytime patrol officers.

If voters approve an extension, the sales tax in San Luis Obispo would remain at 8 percent for eight more years. Of that, 1.5 percentage points are returned to the city for local use. Statewide sales tax is 7.5 percent.

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