The issue: Should San Luis Obispo’s Measure G, an extension of the half-cent sales tax, get voters’ approval?
I write to urge San Luis Obispo voters to approve Measure G, a half-cent sales tax that is vital to ensure continued delivery of high-quality city services. Without it, we will be forced to cut the city general fund budget by 12 percent. Painful budget decisions will be unavoidable: Many capital improvement projects will be deferred or canceled, and many city services will have to be slashed.
Contrary to claims by opponents, this is neither a new tax nor a tax increase. Measure G merely seeks to renew an existing halfcent sales tax that voters approved overwhelmingly in 2006 as Measure Y.
Measure G revenues, if approved, would continue to provide about $7 million annually — more than 12 percent of our city’s General Fund. These funds are intended to protect and maintain essential services and facilities such as open space preservation, flood protection, neighborhood street paving, code enforcement and senior programs. The measure also includes a citizen’s oversight committee to make spending recommendations to the City Council and to monitor our spending.
Some opponents argue that Measure Y was intended solely to fund capital improvements like buildings, roads and bridges. That is not true. The original ballot measure stated that the funds were intended “to protect and maintain essential services.” In fact, we on the City Council have applied these revenues to a combination of services and capital improvements.
Based on independently audited figures as of June 30, 2013, the city has allocated Measure Y funds for the following services and facilities over the past seven years:
Streets: $11.6 million for street repair and sidewalk maintenance.
Public safety: $6.5 million for improved police and fire protection.
Flood protection: $5.7 million on stormdrain maintenance and creek protection.
Traffic: $1.5 million on congestion relief and reduced accidents, including $700,000 for upgrading the Los Osos Valley Road interchange.
Open space protection: $1.3 million to acquire and maintain open space — and these funds enable the city to obtain private donations and state or federal grants at a ratio of about $3 for every $1 of city funds. (See list above.)
Neighborhood wellness: $750,200 on stepped-up code enforcement and neighborhood services.
Seniors: $378,400 for Senior Center improvements.
Here are five more reasons to support Measure G:
1. 72 percent of this sales tax revenue is paid by tourists and other visitors. The benefits from these out-of-town visitors flow to our own residents at no cost to us.
2. Local revenue sources are increasingly important to leverage federal and state grants for roads, transit and infrastructure, as well as open space and parks.
3. As with the original Measure Y, Measure G is set to expire after eight years so that voters once again can have the opportunity to assess whether we are spending their tax dollars wisely.
4. The current 8 percent sales tax rate is the same rate that exists in more than 90 percent of California.
5. A “local option” sales tax gives us the ability to withstand tough economic times. In 2008, for example, our General Fund revenues dropped significantly due to the Great Recession, but we avoided laying off employees and deep service cuts because of Measure Y — and because city employees agreed to make significant concessions in their contracts, resulting in $3.1 million in savings to the city. Our fiscal discipline continues even now: We have permanently reduced retirement benefits for all new city employees; in fact, 20 percent of employees are working under the new pension plans. When our latest two-year Financial Plan concluded in July 2013, we had sufficient savings to pay down more than $3 million of the unfunded liability in our pension program, as well as anearly $1 million debt owed to our insurance provider. As a result, our city has just received a “AA” rating with a “stable” fiscal outlook and “excellent” fiscal management.
Measure G will provide millions of dollars for future improvements that will benefit all residents. It will make San Luis Obispo a better place to live. Vote yes on Measure G.