Where was the campaign?

The city stands to lose nearly $1 million a year because nobody took ownership of Measure J

Somebody blew it on Measure J. Big time.

When Chico voters went to the polls on Nov. 6 and saw “Chico telephone users’ tax,” it’s likely most of them didn’t know what was at stake.

They may not have known that, assuming they owned any kind of phone, they already had been paying the tax to the city. They probably didn’t know that Measure J would have reduced the tax from 5 percent to 4.5 percent. They very likely didn’t know that defeat of the measure could siphon as much as $600,000 from this year’s general fund and close to $1 million each year thereafter, making it more difficult for the city to provide essential services such as police and fire protection.

That’s because nobody took ownership of Measure J and explained it to the voters. Sure, a majority of the council members supported the measure from the council dais. But we didn’t see any Yes on J signs or public workshops.

What we did see were several No on J signs on neighborhood lawns, courtesy of the Chico Taxpayers Association and happily distributed by members of the Chico Tea Party. And what we heard was the usual, predictable “no new taxes” rhetoric, even from Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Bob Evans. It worked. The measure failed.

We’re curious what Sorensen is going to say to his constituents now that the city is in the hole for funds that could pay for seven or eight police officers, as City Manager Brian Nakamura pointed out last week during a meeting of the Finance Committee. Sorensen said next to nothing during a discussion on the outcome of Measure J.

What now? According to law, the city can’t put another tax measure on the ballot for two full years. Between now and then, it may have to refund a portion of previously collected revenues. Let’s hope not many cell-phone users ask for their money back. If they do, staffing cuts will be made, and cops and firefighters make up 80 percent of the city’s payroll.