Taxes people like

Recent votes show they will support local taxes

The proposal put forth last week by a group of community leaders to take back fiscal control of Chico by passing a .75-cent sales-tax hike is a good one. It’s frustrating to be at the mercy of the state, which has an unfortunate tendency to solve its financial problems by commandeering money traditionally allocated to local agencies like the city.

And we believe voters will support it—as long as they understand it. For all the anti-tax rhetoric circulating these days, Californians are quite willing to back tax measures when they know where the money’s going.

As evidence, consider what happened on Nov. 8, when voters in cities and counties up and down the state cast ballots on a total of 53 proposals to increase, revise, expand or extend local taxes, fees or bonds. Twenty-two of the measures required only a majority vote for approval, while 31 required either 55 percent or two-thirds approval.

When the dust had settled, voters had approved 41, or 77 percent, of the measures.

Among them were nine measures to hike the sales-tax rate. Seven of them were intended to generate general-fund money, so they required only majority approval; four of them passed. Two of the measures were designated tax hikes—that is, the revenues were targeted for specific uses—and required two-thirds approval: Voters in Mendocino County approved a one-eighth-cent tax for libraries, while San Franciscans voted down a half-cent tax hike to fund police and fire services. (That city already has one of the state’s highest sales-tax rates, at 8.5 percent.)

The Chico plan is also for a designated tax hike, so it will require two-thirds approval. However, as Tom Gascoyne’s report in this issue (Newslines, page 10) explains, the Chico plan is also extraordinary. For one thing, it proposes to fund a wide range of services and projects, from high-school sports to pothole repair, run by different agencies. And it also envisions funding some very expensive capital projects, such as a new police headquarters, by leveraging bond financing whose debt service would be paid out of the additional sales-tax revenue. It is, in a word, complicated.

It’s also visionary, and the people behind it are talented and credible. We appreciate their commitment and look forward to seeing what they come up with.