Tahoe Daily Tribune: Vote ‘Yes’ on Measure C
October 21, 2017
ON MEASURE C
In these polarized times, one is hard-pressed to find widespread agreement on almost anything. It's in this atmosphere that South Lake Tahoe voters are being asked to answer a question (Measure C) involving a rare area of consensus: our deplorable roads.
The divide rests on how to go about funding the needed and growing list of road repairs. On one side of the divide is Measure C: a ½ percent sales tax increase on retail goods sold within the city (tax-exempt items such as groceries are exempt from the ½ percent increase). The other side of the divide opposes Measure C, suggesting instead that the city cut fat out of the budget and direct those dollars to our roads.
While we do not disagree with some of the points raised by opponents of Measure C, there simply is not enough unnecessary blubber in the budget to fill the growing funding gap when it comes to our roads.
For this reason, we recommend voting "Yes" on Measure C.
We do not take questions of tax increases lightly. Like you, we work hard for our money, and when the government takes a slice of our pie we demand it be used responsibly.
That is what we like most about Measure C: There is accountability at its core. The revenue generated from the tax increase, which is estimated to be $2.5 million per year, is directed into a restricted fund that must be used for the repair, maintenance and construction of city streets. Spending this money on something other than its intended purpose is illegal.
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A commission of five to seven community members will direct how these funds are spent each year, and a separate citizen panel will provide additional oversight on all the expenditures. This is not a blank check to City Council. This money goes to its intended purpose no matter who we decide to elect to council in the future.
The tax also is not permanent. The tax expires in 15 years unless voters are asked and decide to re-authorize it. At that point, we may take a very different stance on the question.
That is because in our view, the approximately $2.5 million generated by Measure C each year is intended to help us catch up on the $41 million backlog in road repairs — a crucial number when we consider the arguments against Measure C. (For perspective, the total 2017-18 general fund expenditures approved by City Council in September come in just shy of $38.8 million. Fire and police account for 39 percent of that total.)
Opponents say the city has failed to consistently prioritize road rehabilitation — a fundamental function of municipal government — when it comes time to craft the annual budget. They point to superfluous expenditures, bloated salaries and a general lack of fiscal responsibility that should not be rewarded with more tax dollars.
We, again, do not simply dismiss these arguments.
Some past expenditures cited in editorials and letters are lavish. It's also a challenge to keep one's jaw from hitting the floor when you look at the overall salaries of our highest paid city employees; granted, this is more a troubling symptom of competition among our country's local governments (city attorneys and managers in tourist-driven mountain towns in Colorado and Utah make similar salaries).
Still, questionable expenditures in the past do not negate the reality: We are in a hole deeper than even the most treacherous pothole when it comes to funding for our roads. This is not a hole that can be filled with low-hanging fiscal fruit.
While, as previously stated, we are not big fans of paying more in taxes, it's important to look at the actual impact. As an example, let's say you — a South Lake Tahoe resident — spend $20,000 over the course of a year on retail goods subject to this additional ½ percent sales tax — keep in mind that does not include groceries, medications and other sales-tax exempt items. You would be paying an additional $100 in taxes over the course of the year. Compare that to the many hundreds of dollars some people were forced to pay after their vehicle suffered costly damage due to crater-sized potholes.
Additionally, a sales tax has the added benefit of sharing the burden with the many, many tourists who visit our city. It's indisputable that they contribute to the strain on our infrastructure, especially roads. They should pay their share. Measure C ensures that happens.
Another point has been made about the impact high tax rates have on local businesses.
If approved Measure C would take the city's overall sales tax rate from 7.75 percent — which is about the average in California, according to the Department of Tax and Fee Administration — to 8.25 percent, the same rate as Placerville and Truckee. Both of our local chambers have opted to support Measure C, stating its benefit in the long run.
Those last two words — long run — are important. If approved in November, the streets will not become discernibly better overnight. This is a planned approach that will unfold over years. It starts now with a "Yes" vote on Measure C, because if we continue to kick the can down the road much longer there may not be much of a road left.