Where are the tax haters?

Few commented on the Chico City Council’s plan to raise the local sales tax

As expected, after years of various Chico leaders tip-toeing around the idea, the City Council voted to move forward on a plan to lean on taxpayers to shore up the coffers.

That decision came during the panel’s regular Tuesday meeting and yielded few comments from the public, all of whom voiced support (see Ashiah Scharaga’s report on page 9). The CN&R was surprised by the response—or lack thereof—but maybe we shouldn’t be.

Let’s reflect: For the better part of a decade—spurred by cuts to city services amid the Great Recession—local business leaders have been brainstorming a way for the city to generate additional revenues to pay for things like public safety and infrastructure repairs and improvements. The idea of a sales tax increase has grown increasingly popular with that generally conservative bloc.

The Chico Chamber of Commerce last year threw its support behind a “revenue measure.” At the time, a half-cent increase was being floated (see “Time to tax,” Newslines, Feb. 1, 2018). Evidently, the thought is that a 1 cent hike is palatable today.

Our jaws dropped a few years ago as we watched members of the now-defunct Chico Tea Party lobby a conservative City Council to put such a measure on the ballot. Their biggest gripe: the city’s badly degraded roadways and other public rights-of-way. They were shouting into the wind back then, though. The conservative council wouldn’t touch a tax hike with a 10-foot pole.

But the political winds have since changed, and the city management behind the scenes—mainly conservatives, interestingly—are now working with public officials who aren’t tax-averse. Indeed, several of those on the now-liberal council campaigned on the idea of raising revenues thusly.

But here’s the rub, as pointed out by Councilman Sean Morgan, one of the two remaining conservatives on the panel. Should the public approve such a measure at the polls on a simple majority vote, the revenues would be dumped into the general fund and could be spent on virtually anything based on the whims of the council. Earmarking the funds for specific services—say, public safety, infrastructure and parks—requires approval by a two-thirds margin.

What’s to say it won’t go toward the city’s crushing pension obligations, critics will argue.

We’ll look forward to more conversations on these and other potential sticking points as the council takes the steps needed to place the measure on the 2020 ballot. That’s assuming the public doesn’t believe it’s a foregone conclusion.