The San Fernando City Council is opposing a potential state ballot measure that could make it more difficult for local governments to pass new taxes.
The proposed measure, called the Tax Fairness, Transparency, and Accountability Act of 2018, would require all new taxes to have a two-third’s voter approval, and state specifically how the revenue would be used. In addition, any government fees or fees imposed by regulation would be considered a tax.
Proponents of the measure, sponsored by the American Beverage Association, are seeking enough voter signatures to have the measure placed on the November general election ballot.
California law currently requires a majority vote for new general taxes and two-thirds of votes for any special taxes, i.e. for schools or specific purposes. Also under current law, government and service fees are not considered taxes and can be changed or imposed by a government body’s majority vote without voter approval.
City Manager Alexander Meyerhoff, who explained the motion passed by the council, said if the measure makes it to the November ballot and is passed, it would “make it harder for communities to maintain adequate levels of service” and “make it difficult for communities to plan for the future and prevent cuts to public safety and other vital services.”
Councilmember Robert Gonzales and Mayor Sylvia Ballin used Measure A as an example. Measure A is a half percent sales tax approved by voters that saved the city from bankruptcy in 2013, and is largely attributed to what has kept services running since.
“Measure A is key for us. We’re able to get everything done: trim our trees, pave our streets, do our sidewalks that we’re doing right now. We need to have this again, to continue this process,” Gonzales said.
Voters will decide if they want to extend Measure A this November. If Measure A and the tax transparency bill are both on the ballot and are passed, Measure A would need a two-thirds vote in favor instead of more than half.
Measure A received 567 of the 939 votes when it passed in 2103. If two-thirds were the threshold, it would have needed 626 votes.
“It will be extremely difficult to pass,” Gonzales claimed.
He said entities opposing the bill include the Independent Cities Association and the California Contract Cities Association (whose Gonzales attends these meetings on behalf of the city). He also mentioned the beverage companies are pushing the bill as a way to prevent the sugar tax from being passed in other cities. The “sugar tax” is a tax on drinks with added sugar— like sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks— that has been enacted in multiple cities worldwide in recent years in order to discourage unhealthy diets and curb obesity.
The tax transparency act is sponsored by the American Beverage Association and the California Business Roundtable.
Interestingly, the council passed a motion to raise city fees right before opposing the proposed bill.
The reason for the increase, according to Finance Director Nick Kimball is “the more someone benefits personally by that fee, the more that they should pay full cost.”
On the other hand, fees for events where there is a community benefit, like Metro’s Open Streets event, which was open to the community at no charge, were not raised as much.
“So that’s the type of thing that’s kind of a community benefit idea,” he said.
In other action, members of the Las Palmas Senior Club appeared again before the council, continuing their pleas for transparency and lower costs for their functions.
This was the second meeting a large group of club members attended the council meeting. A handful of them spoke during public comment, primarily in Spanish and with a translator.
Despite the complaints, Martha Lucero took time and thanked Councilmember Joel Fajardo for donating $1,500 to cover entrance fees for their Mother’s Day dance and presented him with a plaque on behalf of the club, which he graciously accepted.
After the complaints had been heard, the council instructed Recreation & Community Services Director Julian Venegas to find resolutions, including a history of fee increases, budget summary and analysis, and resolution time frame.
The council also selected Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez and Fajardo to an ad hoc committee to work with the Wild Horse Children’s Foundation, which is renovating Pioneer Park, and loosened restrictions on the use of city letterhead and the city seal to allow council members to use it without prior council approval only to confirm receipt of letters, congratulate and recognize parties, send condolences and best wishes, respond to or refer to city services, request information from other public agencies, and to express individual support for legislation.