Parks Commission chairman calls for sales tax increase; draws opposition
The chairman of the city Parks and Recreation Commission is calling for a quarter-percent increase in sales tax to help fill the gap in the Department of Parks and Recreation budget – a move he says is supported by voters and would increase the city’s annual revenue by $13.5 million.
The money would go into the general fund, which currently faces a $15.7 million shortfall, and is the primary funding source for police, fire and parks services.
“We are at the point with parks where there is no more money, no more efficiencies to be had, and no crews left,” Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman and mayoral candidate Jonathan Rewers said Tuesday. “We are left to look at raising revenue.”
City Councilman Jay Schenirer said he would not immediately be sold on the idea of a tax increase, but he hasn’t ruled it out, either.
“I think there is a lot of discussion still to be had about what types of revenues can be raised and what they would go for,” Schenirer said Tuesday.
“Certainly parks and recreation has a high need, but across the board we have so many needs,” he added.
David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said Tuesday that the idea of increasing sales tax comes at the wrong time.
“Obviously sales taxes are very regressive in that they harm every single individual in a community, and with unemployment in the county I believe still over 11 percent, this just isn’t the right time to pass this kind of exaction,” he said.
He added that California has the highest base sales tax in the country, so any local addition to that is a burden on the community.
“We need to continue to promote fiscal responsibility within our city governments and make sure they are spending within their means,” he said.
Rewers’ opponent, Mayor Kevin Johnson, is opposed to the idea.
"I’m not one to be inclined to think a tax is the best thing to do," he told the Sacramento Bee.
Rewers made his recommendation after the results of poll that sought to gauge public support for nine potential revenue measures to restore city services, including park maintenance, were released Tuesday.
The poll was commissioned by the city and conducted by a Santa Monica-based public opinion research firm, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, to gauge public support for nine potential revenue measures to restore city services, including park maintenance.
According to the result of the poll, only 60 percent of respondents were in favor of a property tax – not enough to pass a measure requiring a two-thirds vote, Rewers said.
The concept of a general sales tax increase garnered the highest support in the poll, with 71 percent of respondents in favor. With that in mind, Rewers said he wants the City Council to consider a quarter-percent general sales tax increase.
A general tax increase only requires 50 percent of the vote to pass, making it more likely to succeed in November than a property tax, which Rewers suggested as a revenue-generating option before the poll was released.
The current budget hole in the city general fund is $15.7 million, so a sales tax increase would not be enough to completely close the gap, meaning the city would still have to find ways to reduce spending, Rewers said.
Along with the sales tax increase, Rewers said he is recommending to the City Council a companion ballot measure to ask voters how they would like that $13.5 million spent.
“If we are going to the voters to ask for their money, we should also ask them how they want us to spend it,” Rewers said.
Schenirer said he would like to hear what people in the community feel about the idea. before coming to any conclusion about putting something on the November ballot.
Here is the poll in its entirety.
The Sacramento Press is working to update this article with more perspectives about the potential general sales tax increase to help fund parks and park maintenance. Let us know what you think in our reader poll and in the conversation below.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.