Uttering the T-word

Could a temporary tax hike solve Chico’s fiscal problems?

Now that the Chico City Council has approved a major restructuring of all city departments except police and fire, what’s next?

The restructuring is expected to save an estimated $1 million annually. But that’s far less than the estimated $3.5 million structural budget deficit, the $9 million owed the development services fund, and the $1 million owed the airport fund—about $12.5 million less, in fact.

Indeed, the $1 million saved by restructuring is only slightly more than the $900,000 in revenues lost when Measure J, the cell-phone-tax measure, went down in flames in November—a disaster that can be attributed to the failure of anyone, including the council members who placed it on the ballot, to lift a finger in its support.

So what now? Where will that $12.5 million be found? The big money is in public safety, and nobody wants to cut positions there.

Dare we utter the T-word? If we can’t cut any more, perhaps it’s time to look for a new source of revenue.

In November 2011 a group of community leaders proposed a .75-percent sales-tax increase that would have generated a projected $12 million annually. Fed up by being jacked around by the state, which kept commandeering local funds, they were proposing that Chico declare its independence and raise its own money.

They stepped back from their proposal when they realized it would be on the ballot at the same time as Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure, Proposition 30.

Still, it was a good idea then, and it’s a good idea today. It doesn’t have to be as much—a quarter-cent hike would generate $4 million annually, enough to right the fiscal ship in just three years. A half-cent hike would allow the city to move forward on desperately needed infrastructure improvements.

We understand those same leaders are working on an updated proposal. We look forward to seeing it.