Opinion: The progressive case for voting no on Sacramento’s Measure U
It is no surprise that anti-tax and chamber-of-commerce types oppose Measure U, the measure to raise sales taxes in the City of Sacramento. Their knee-jerk reaction to raising revenues is predictable. But progressives have plenty of reasons to oppose Measure U as well.
Measure U is a regressive sales tax. That means that poor and middle-income families will pay the same rate as Sacramento’s wealthiest citizens, essentially subsidizing the rich for services that we all receive.
According to Citizens for Tax Justice, since seniors, students and low-income families spend most of their money on essentials, a sales tax hits them the hardest. Measure U will cost these families hundreds of dollars each year and require a larger chunk of their income than it does of our city’s wealthiest citizens.
It’s a reverse-Robin Hood policy. And it’s why none of the statewide ballot measures that seek to increase school funding is exclusively a sales-tax hike.
For example, the governor’s proposal (Proposition 30) to funds schools and balance the state budget relies heavily on progressive taxation (where the wealthy pay a higher percentage).
Measure U also will give our city the highest sales tax in the region. It will drive jobs and businesses out of Sacramento and put our city at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring communities. And who will suffer from a decline in retail sales? Low-wage retail employers, students with restaurant jobs, and seniors who try to supplement their Social Security checks with part-time employment.
I would like to think that most of Sacramento’s city council members know this. Most of them are good progressives. They just chose to ignore it.
Instead, they spent $40,000 of taxpayer money on a political poll to tell them which type of tax was the easiest to pass—not which tax was the fairest or would produce the most stable level of revenue for the city. Just the one that would sell at the polls.
Furthermore, this tax increase—which would make Sacramento’s sales tax the highest in the region—does not guarantee more human services, more funding for programs to reduce homelessness or even more community safety from our firefighters and police. The $28 million in additional revenue (which, at best, is a guess, given that retail sales will likely be driven out of the city because of its high tax rate) can be put toward anything that the city council wants, whether it be arena studies or pay increases for city management.
A better option would have been a revenue increase targeted for police and fire, and other city priorites. But the City Council did not go that route because it needed a two-thirds, rather than a majority vote — even though their own poll showed targeted taxes scoring well above the votes they needed; 78 percent of voters indicating they supported a "special purpose" tax for fire, and 76 percent favored it for police.
That’s another reason Sacamento voters should scrap Measure U. It’s time we sent a message to the city council that Sacramento citizens want accountability and fairness in tax policy and budgeting.
Disclosure: Steven Maviglio is a Democratic political consultant and delegate to the 2008 Democratic convention. The views expressed here are his own as a Sacramento voter.