Shadow poll tests new sales tax in Santa Clara County
Residents cast ballots at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on Nov. 8, 2022. File photo.

    Santa Clara County voters might find a new sales tax measure on the 2024 ballot—and there’s an opinion poll swirling through the community to gauge the climate.

    Texts and emails went out last week asking residents whether they would vote for a half-cent sales tax increase on the next ballot.

    The poll was sent by text through Opinion Research U.S. and by email through EMC Research, a market research and data analytics firm. It is unknown who paid for the poll. County officials told San José Spotlight they did not pay for the poll, and Working Partnerships USA and Destination: Home have also denied initiating it.

    The sales tax would last 13 years and generate an estimated $240 million, according to the poll. The tax would fund trauma and emergency services, public safety measures, affordable housing for vulnerable populations, mental health services, residential treatment facilities for substance use, job services for homeless people and other essential services.

    A screenshot of one of the questions in the opinion poll for a possible half-cent sales tax in Santa Clara County.

    Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, said he doesn’t believe a sales tax will help vulnerable populations because the tax applies to all residents.

    “They’re going to tax the poor people to help the poor people,” he told San José Spotlight. “Does that make any sense whatsoever?”

    San Jose has one of the highest sales tax rates in Santa Clara County at 9.38%, along with Milpitas, Campbell, Los Gatos and Morgan Hill. In 2019, residents shot down a 5/8-cent sales tax increase proposed by county officials before it reached the ballot.

    Some county supervisors have discussed a half-cent tax for specific uses like transportation, but no action has been taken by the county.

    Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Susan Ellenberg said she has seen families leaving the area because of the high costs of living. She said funding attempts have to examine its nuances.

    “Any consideration of additional revenue must look at the impacts of the vast wealth gap and propose pathways to greater stability, including expanded access to high-quality child care, truly affordable housing and available treatment for mental health and substance use disorders,” she told San Jose Spotlight.

    A representative for Supervisor Cindy Chavez declined comment due to not knowing who paid for the poll.

    Some of the questions in the poll ask residents how likely they would be to support a measure if it promised to fund different issues, including homelessness, mental health services and affordable housing. Responses ranged from very likely to very unlikely.

    The San Jose City Council opposed the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act in February, a bill that would make it more difficult for local governments to pass new taxes and fees if approved by voters. This initiative, sponsored by the California Business Roundtable, is slated to appear on the 2024 ballot.

    The poll promises the funding from the possible measure could only be used for essential services in Santa Clara County and the funding would be overseen by an oversight committee.

    Hinkle said even with failsafes, he is worried the money won’t be used properly. Instead, he wants the county to work with the money it already has.

    “The overriding concern is the money will be spent on whatever whim of the day comes down the pike,” he said. “The promises made by politicians today will not be kept by politicians tomorrow.”

    Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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