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Sacramento City Council Puts Sales Tax Increase On November Ballot

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Sacramento will ask voters to increase the city sales tax to the highest in the region to pay for massive investments in public services, affordable housing and community programs.

City Council approved a ballot measure on Tuesday evening that would ask voters to double its existing “Measure U” sales tax to a full penny. This would raise the total tax to 8.75 percent, an increase that officials say would generate an estimated $100 million a year for not only police, firefighters and parks, but also money for affordable housing, homelessness and investment in communities of color.

“As a council and a community, today will be a day we remember as a day Sacramento defined its future,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said of the plan, which passed by a 7-to-1 vote.

The Measure U tax went into effect in 2012 as the city was cutting jobs and reeling from a recession. It increased the city’s sales tax by half-a-penny and today generates approximately $47 million a year, which pays for 90 firefighters, 195 employees in the police department, 137 parks and recreation workers, in addition to funding for libraries, swimming pools and other amenities.

Measure U is set to expire in March of next year, however, which is why council is prioritizing its renewal this November.

City council held two meetings on Tuesday to debate the proposal and vote on its approval.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby argued that increasing the tax by a full penny is crucial for the city’s future. “This is an opportunity, this is our moment,” she said. “This is a really exciting day for Sacramento.”

But some council members were concerned that asking for an additional half-penny is a gamble. “I happen to believe that there’s very substantial risk involved,” Councilman Jeff Harris said.

He was the lone vote against putting the increase on the ballot and instead proposed the idea of renewing Measure U separately, then also asking voters for a quarter-cent increase. “To me, that is a viable option,” he said, but later hinted that he would support the mayor’s proposal if it goes to the ballot.

“There’s no guarantees in life and in politics,” Steinberg responded to Harris, “but I think given the opportunities to invest … makes it in fact worth supporting.”

The measure would require only a simple majority of voters to pass, not two-thirds, because it does not mandate that the tax revenue be spent in a specific way.

A majority of speakers on Tuesday afternoon — including representatives with central city business groups and developers — supported the mayor’s plan for a full-cent increase.

“We are in a cycle right now, without redevelopment, without key resources, that these funds from Measure U could play a role in helping to further what really has been incredible economic development in this region,” said Michael Ault, with the Downtown Partnership, in support of the proposal.

Some opposed the mayor’s plan, however, arguing that the existing Measure U tax is sufficient, or that the additional revenue would not end up in underserved communities.

Longstanding Sacramento activist Dennis Neufeld said “the one-half cent sales tax should be more than enough to handle the spending priorities of this city.”

Alegra Taylor, who said she was at the meeting to represent the black community, said she was “tired of voting for things that my people don’t benefit from.”

“Stop promising promising the black community something that you are not giving,” she said. “If you want our vote, if you want my vote, show me what you’re going to do with that money that’s going to benefit black people.”

The mayor has said his proposal is partly in response to the police shooting of Stephon Clark, and that he wants revenue from the proposed tax increase to go toward job training, affordable housing and investment in Sacramento black communities.

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