Saratoga News

Voters asked to approve sales tax increase

By Khalida Sarwari

September 24, 2012

Some say it will save the county's most essential services, while others say it wouldn't be fair to impose upon taxpayers who are already financially burdened.

On Nov. 6, voters will go to the polls to consider Measure A, an ordinance that, if passed by majority approval, would increase the sales tax by one-eighth cent, upping the local tax rate from 8.375 percent to 8.5 percent.

Measure A is a general sales tax that would apply to most retail sales in the county. The money from the tax would fund law enforcement and public safety, trauma and emergency room services and health coverage for low-income children. The revenue would also fund economic development and job creation, housing for the homeless and programs to help students stay in school.

To pass, the measure requires approval by a majority of the votes cast in the county.

Opponents of the ordinance, such as the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, have said that taxpayers should not have to bear responsibility for the county's "spending problem."

Brian Holtz, president of the Purissima Hills Water District, said he supports the SVTA's position that Measure A violates Prop 218, a state law stipulating that when local government wants to place a general tax measure on the ballot, it must do so in an election that coincides with an election of local candidates relevant to the unit of government that seeks the tax--that being the county supervisors in this case.

"As a member of a local water board, I take Prop. 218 very seriously, and wish the county supervisors would, too," Holtz said.

He said he disagreed with supporters of Measure A, who claim the ordinance will help prevent cuts to county services, such as the county's Healthy Kids program.

"Its proponents throw up the usual smokescreen about children in order to distract from the ongoing scandal in bloated pensions for government employees," said Holtz. "The sad irony is that children are the ones who will end up paying for the pension giveaways that today's politicians use to buy their reelection."

But, supporters including Kathleen King, executive director of the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation, and Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation, argue that funds from the tax would support vital services that have been affected by budget reductions, such as health care at the VMC and local clinics, health insurance for children, public safety and law enforcement programs and controlling the spread of diseases through early detection and immunizations.

Furthermore, they said, the ordinance specifies that the funds can be used only in the county and cannot be taken by other levels of government.

"I firmly believe that taking care of all helps all get better," said King. "Everyone has the independence and ability to say how they want to spend their money ... if you have never been affected by any of those things they may not be your top priority."

Wilder said the county's health and hospital system, which comprises 40 percent of the county's budget, has taken a big hit by the 10 consecutive years of budget cuts.

"One in four people rely on VMC for care, and that's why I think Measure A is essential," he said.

If Measure A is approved, voters would have to pay the additional tax for the next 10 years after it goes into effect on April 1.

(This article is also available at the Web site of Saratoga News, here.)

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