THREE CITIES in Contra Costa County and two in Alameda County have sales tax increase measures on the November ballot. They would boost what is already one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation even further, up to 10.25 percent in two of the cities.
All of these measures would raise tax money for city general funds and could be used for whatever city leaders decide.
It is understandable for California cities to seek more tax money with declining revenues from current taxes and with state raids on local funds.
But raising sales tax rates in a prolonged economic downturn is poor economic policy. Sales taxes weigh most heavily on lower-income residents and they can do considerable harm to businesses that are struggling with small profit margins.
While it is true that cities have tightened their belts with spending cuts, there is more they can and should do to save money.
Local governments need to negotiate leaner pay and benefits packages with public employees, who generally enjoy considerably higher total compensation than people with similar jobs in the private sector.
Cities should not be seeking to place an increased tax burden on every resident, including retired people on fixed incomes and those who are unemployed.
It is unfair to ask city residents who earn less than their peers in government to pay even more taxes to maintain basic services.
It is also poor public policy for the region to have a patchwork quilt of sales tax rates that could hurt sales, particularly on big-ticket purchases such as motor vehicles.
While all of the sales tax measures have sunsets, ranging from four to eight years, it would not be surprising if many or all of the cities became dependent on the tax increases and sought to renew them.
Once the sales tax increase is in place, there will be less motivation for city governments to pursue ways to reduce spending, particularly in negotiating with public employee unions.
Greater economy in delivering essential public services should be made before trying to raise taxes that most affect those least able to afford them.
We strongly recommend rejection of all five sales tax measures. Vote no on Measures P, Q, R, Z and AA.