Friday, February 24, 2006

Serving mystery sales tax in the county building

Remember the last time being served mystery meat? This time the county is serving something that tastes just like mystery meat: mystery sales tax. This mystery sales tax has a simple recipe:

Shall a sales tax of one-half of 1 percent be enacted for general county purposes such as:
The county hospital and clinics;
Trauma and emergency services;
Affordable homes for families and seniors;
Health insurance for uninsured children;
Prevention programs for at-risk youth, families and seniors;
Transportation improvements approved in city and countywide transportation plans;
Services for abused and neglected children;
with a Citizens Oversight Committee to ensure fiscal accountability by reviewing the Annual Audit?

From the list above, can you answer these questions:

  1. Is there any guideline or assurance that any program mentioned would get the necessary funding?
  2. Is there any assurance for the county that it won't use the sales tax revenue for other unstated purposes?
  3. Is there any measure to protect social and geographical equity of the tax?

Carl Guardino was reportedly threatened the supervisors with opposing the 1/4 cent sales tax unless the county supports a 1/2 cent tax, along with a gentleman's agreement that half of the tax goes to Guardino's pet project: BART. Guardino and the county are refusing to admit this hidden agreement in order to sell this specific tax, which requires 2/3 voter approval, as a general fund tax, which requires 1/2 voter approval.

VTA Watch has earlier reported about the possibility of the county supporting transportation projects. With Guardino's recent influence, the currently proposed ballot measure could result in a worst case scenario, where the more than half of the new sales tax would go to the BART project without further input from voters.

While the county supervisors today may not want to spend the entire 1/4 cent, or a penny at all on BART, there will be turnovers on the board in the future that may change its spending priorities. Also, VTA could ask the county to pay for bus service with the county's new tax and then spend all the VTA's bus funding on BART. Unfortunately this proposal, which would make the sales tax in Santa Clara County highest in the state, offers no guideline nor protection against wasteful spending.

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