San Jose Mercury News

Santa Clara County voters embrace Measure A sales tax

by John Woolfolk

November 7, 2012

Santa Clara County voters approved a sales tax measure for county programs Tuesday. The margin for approval had changed little throughout the evening.


Santa Clara County's Measure A calls for a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase for 10 years, which would raise about $50 million annually for county programs including Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and public health and welfare.


Backers had argued it was a modest request to bolster health and safety programs after years of budget cutbacks. Supporters, led by the VMC Foundation and the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation, raised more than $660,688 toward the measure's passage.


There was no organized opposition campaign.


But critics including the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association had argued the additional tax money would merely be wasted on overly generous government retirement packages and would not necessarily improve health and other county programs.


Measure A marked the county's second attempt at a general sales tax increase after voters in June 2006 rejected a half-cent, 30-year tax.


Approval of Measure A will raise Santa Clara County's sales tax rate from 8.375 percent to 8.5 percent, matching the current rate in San Francisco, which is among the highest in California. The rate in Alameda and Los Angeles counties is 8.75 percent. San Mateo County's sales tax rate would jump from 8.25 to 8.75 percent if voters there approve a half-cent sales tax also on the November ballot.


The cost of the additional one-eighth-cent sales tax on individual households is hard to gauge, as it depends on their spending.


County officials say Measure A would raise $498.6 million over 10 years. The average of $49.9 million annual haul comes to about $82 a year for each of Santa Clara County's 604,204 households. But because much of the tax would be paid by visiting buyers, the burden on each county household might be half that, or $41 a year.


Santa Clara County, with a $4.2 billion annual budget, provides a variety of services, the largest being the $1.1 billion Valley Medical Center hospital. Others include the sheriff's department, jail, coroner and district attorney, public health programs, welfare programs, property tax assessments, voter registration, births and marriages.


County-general fund revenues overall have grown over the past decade, from $1.7 billion in 2002 to $2 billion this year. The county's sales tax revenue slipped to $3.6 million this year from $3.8 million in 2007 but remains above the $3.5 million mark from a decade ago.


County officials acknowledge their employee retirement costs will grow by $12 million in 2014, $24 million the year after and $36 million in 2016. The county has promised some $3 billion more in retirement perks than its plan has cash to cover, a debt of almost $5,000 per county household.


But county officials, who blamed the housing market crash and weak economy for their financial pinch, said they've trimmed $2 billion in costs over 10 years of budget deficits and that spending grew less than 1 percent a year over the past four years.


Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at

This article is also available at the Web site of San Jose Mercury News, here.

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