Santa Clara County supervisors push for new sales tax measure
SEIU 521 held a “Our Community, Our County, Our Future” Forum on Aug. 3 in San Jose to discuss solutions for the housing, child care, and healthcare crises in Santa Clara County. Photo courtesy of SEIU 521.

A new sales tax could bring additional funding to Santa Clara County, amid predictions of future revenue losses and budget threats.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday advanced a proposal from Supervisor Cindy Chavez for a 5/8-cent sales tax increase to provide funding for prioritized services such as health care, child care, climate change protection and the preservation of agricultural land.

The proposed sales tax would increase the current countywide rate from 9 percent to 9.625 percent. According to a calculation provided to the board last year, the measure will generate an estimated $250 million to the general fund annually, beginning in 2021.

During last year’s budget process, County Executive Jeff Smith recommended scaling back spending but Chavez said the county needs to also be “strategic and bold.”

“This is an opportunity for us to add resources where we know we still have significant projects that haven’t been done,” Chavez said. “It does not seem strategic for us to maintain the status quo relative to the services we offer and relative to the needs of our workforce. I believe that we’re really looking at ways to stem the tide of cost and human suffering.”

Nearly a dozen people spoke at the meeting Tuesday to voice support for the potential sales tax.

Marc Landgraf, external affairs manager for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, said $500 million in funding would be needed over the next 15 to 20 years to preserve agricultural land in Santa Clara County, which contributes more than $1.6 billion a year in total value to the economy.

“(The sales tax measure) has the potential, even if in part, to be applied to preserving our precious remaining agricultural land for the benefit of the people,” Landgraf said. “The authority stands ready to assist as a primary partner to the county and honest preservation efforts in any way you can.”

Retired teacher and lifelong Santa Clara County resident Jim Marshall said he sees the need for additional funding by the sheer amount of teachers who can’t afford to stay in the area and provide child care for their own children.

“Child care should be one of the highest valued things our society can offer,” Marshall said. “Bringing up there next generation is a sacred trust, and we’re blowing it because we aren’t putting our money where our value should be – supporting quality childcare. All of this can be helped by more steady revenue. I know sales tax isn’t a great thing but I think, for myself and my neighbors, 5/8th of one cent is not a lot to ask for someone to help their neighbors out.”

According to the Service Employees International Union Local 521, which represents 40,000 public- and nonprofit, private-sector workers in the central Bay Area region and in the Central Valley, more than 200 community members met earlier this year during three “Our Community, Our County, Our Future” forums in Gilroy, Mountain View and San Jose to discuss the need for funding.

Conversations during the series focused on ensuring the increase in revenue aids the rising costs of housing, child care and healthcare. A petition presented to the supervisors Tuesday urged the lawmakers to invest in those areas.

But because that revenue would be directed to the general fund, there’s no saying where the funds will actually go. According to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, the final spending decisions are made solely by the Board of Supervisors. The CDTFA’s role is to ensure that tax is reported at the correct rate and allocated to the correct jurisdiction.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman said he could not support the measure because residents in Santa Clara County are already overtaxed.

“The cost of living is already so high,” he said, “to me, a sales tax just adds on to everything a person buys, except food.”

Wasserman’s vote was the only one against the motion, while Board President Joe Simitian abstained. They each, however, voted against a similar proposal in 2018.

The sales tax measure will return at the Sept. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting for action. If approved by the supervisors, the measure will go to the Nov. 2020 ballot.

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @klauer77 on Twitter.

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