A new half-cent sales tax to raise an estimated $81 million a year, mostly for social services, moved closer to the November election ballot this week, but delays in passing a certain state Senate bill could still derail it.
On a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the supervisors voted to place the sales tax measure on the November ballot contingent on the passage before Aug. 24 of state Senate Bill 1349, drafted by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, which would authorize Contra Costa County specifically 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. Without the bill’s approval, the county’s sales tax measure couldn’t practically move forward.
Passage of SB 1349 and other bills has been delayed by a state Legislature summer recess that was extended because COVID-19 had directly affected several staffers and at least one legislator. Whether SB 1349 will get a vote in time for the Contra Costa measure to get onto the ballot is uncertain.
The supervisors also set a meeting for Aug. 21, a Friday, so they could vote to rescind the sales tax measure in case SB 1349 is not signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom by then.
“I am not going to allow this to go ahead … unless I know the governor has actually said he will sign (SB 1349),” Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said.
Added Supervisor Diane Burgis, “We need to protect the county by not spending the money for something that doesn’t go through.”
The Contra Costa County supervisors last month approved spending $10,000 for a poll by the firm FM3 Research to help determine voter support for the sales tax measure.
A county-commissioned poll showed at least 59 percent support for the tax, depending on various specific inclusions. Among the most strongly supported uses for the tax money, the poll results showed, are 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.
Public comments Tuesday were mixed about supporting a new tax. Several said the county needs additional revenue to sustain needed social programs now more than ever, with the COVID-19 pandemic stretching country resources to the limit and beyond.
But others said the pandemic has made it harder for owners of closed businesses, and for people who have lost their jobs, to bear another tax of from $25 to $70 annually.
“It’s just too much of a burden when the money’s not flowing,” Deborah Thompson of Martinez told the supervisors.
Supervisor Candace Andersen, who agreed that now isn’t the right time to seek a tax increase, was the lone “no” vote.