A tax we can live (better) with

Nobody needs to tell us money is tight right now. The American economy is in the tank, and California’s $23 billion budget deficit remains largely ignored thanks to the election-year timidity of our politicians. No one doubts that huge budget cuts loom. And few doubt that these forces combine to create a very tough environment in which to finance the operations of a large and complex city like Sacramento.

Now is simply a bad time to cut an existing tax, at least to the extent that Measure T would.

If approved by voters on November 5, Measure T would reduce the city’s utility-users tax—which is charged on cable television service, cell phones, long-distance and local telephone services, electricity and gas bills—from 7.5 percent to 2.5 percent during a four-year period. In increments during that time, the tax reduction would wind up cutting the general fund by a whopping $39 million per year. (The tax now provides 18 percent of the city’s revenues.)

There is no getting around the truth that a cut this deep would hit Sacramento hard and would reduce many city departments, including police and fire services that account for a huge percentage of general-fund expenditures. The cut also would damage the city’s ability to keep libraries open every day, provide animal-care services, maintain parks, provide after-school and senior programs and maintain city pools—all the services that help make Sacramento a place worth living in.

The utility-users tax is a regressive one; there’s no doubt about it. We don’t like the idea of making people pay taxes on the necessities of life—could you live without electricity or a telephone?—and are fully aware that such taxes can be especially hard on low-income residents. We believe the city should reduce this tax voluntarily as other income becomes available. The city also should promote the tax’s rebate program fully, to reimburse seniors, the disabled and all qualified residents who apply.

It is no surprise that the No On T position is supported—almost uniformly—by the city’s neighborhood associations, police and firefighters associations, chambers of commerce, advocates for those with low incomes, politicians, and a who’s who roster of prominent Sacramentans. They all recognize, as we do, that reducing the tax is a bad idea right now; that a No On T vote is necessary to protect the quality of Sacramento’s livability.

The measure is complicated by the fact that a county utility-tax initiative, Measure G, is also on the November 5 ballot and, through a strange quirk, must be decided by both city and county voters. Officials say a yes vote on this measure would mean about $9 million in county cutbacks would be avoided immediately. So, people who favor the utility tax are being asked to vote for Measure G and against Measure T.

If passed, we believe Measure T would hurt more people than it would help.