The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will proceed with pursuing a half-cent, 20-year sales tax measure for November’s general election ballot, though it could be derailed if a bill now languishing in Sacramento isn’t passed by the end of July.
The tax would raise an estimated $81 million a year to pay for county services including Health and Emergency Services, Safety Net Services, Housing and Early Childhood Services.
The supervisors will be presented with proposed ballot measure language at their July 28 meeting, and will have to approve a measure at that same meeting to allow enough time to get the measure on the November ballot.
County Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville was the sole “no” vote Tuesday for moving ahead, saying she has “serious concerns” about adding further tax burdens to families already stressed by the economic effects of the COVID-19 restrictions.
“A sales tax is the most regressive form of taxation for those who can least afford it,” Andersen said. “I think the timing of it is really, really off.”
But other supervisors, including John Gioia of West County, said the need for these services is also greater, driven by the same re-tightened restrictions and by the county’s own budget problems. He said a similar tax in Los Angeles County costs most families between $25 and $65 annually.
“I don’t think that is an undue burden,” said Gioia, who noted Contra Costa is the only Bay Area county that doesn’t have a sales tax that supports county services.
The Contra Costa sales tax measure will depend on passage of state Senate Bill 1349, drafted by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, that would authorize the county to impose a transactions and use tax of up to a half-cent “for general or specific purposes to support countywide programs.”
That bill would allow such a tax to pass with only a majority vote, rather than a two-thirds vote.
That bill, and all others, are on hold as the state Senate and Assembly have postponed resumption of work after summer recess next week because COVID-19 has directly affected several staffers and at least one legislator.
David Schonbrunn, president of San Rafael-based TRANSDEF, a tax-oversight nonprofit, said he believes this measure is more a special tax than a general one; a special tax would require a two-thirds vote.
“If SB 1349 fails, you will have wasted taxpayer dollars,” Schonbrunn told the supervisors.
The motion approved Tuesday would put the sales tax on the November ballot contingent on approval on SB 1349. But the supervisors have to have their ballot information to elections officials by Aug. 7 for the measure to appear on November’s ballot.
The Contra Costa supervisors last month approved spending $10,000 for a poll by the firm FM3 to help determine voter support for this sales tax measure.
Supervisors on Tuesday heard the results of that polling, of 666 Contra Costa County voters likely to cast ballots in November conducted June 22-29 online and via telephone. Approximately two-thirds of respondents said they would support a 20-year tax, with 59 percent supporting a 35-year tax.
Among the most strongly supported uses for the tax money, according to the FM3 polling, are to support mental health care, after school programs, the Contra Costa County Regional Medical Center and for increasing transparency and accountability of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office.
“People are more understanding of our need to provide more health care,” Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg said.