SAN JOSE -- City leaders wanted to ask residents for more money to boost depleted services, but failed on Tuesday to place a tax increase measure on the November ballot because they couldn't agree on how the money would be spent.
A divided San Jose City Council voted against placing a measure on the November ballot to increase the sales tax rate by a quarter-cent, to 9 percent, even though 10 of 11 council members wanted to put a tax bump on the ballot.
The problem? Mayor Chuck Reed and five other council members wanted to earmark the $34 million in new tax revenues for public safety, while four other members wanted the money available to be spent on any city services. The measure needed eight votes to make it to the ballot, and neither side was willing to budge.
The disagreement means the council will not have another opportunity to put a general tax measure on the ballot until 2016, leaving the city to largely make due with the money it has. On the other hand, residents already struggling to deal with the affordability crisis stemming from the high cost of living in Silicon Valley are safe from higher taxes.
The measure died because of a classic San Jose political fight that pitted Reed and his fiscal conservative allies against union-backed council members. Reed's group was worried a general tax could be wasted on pork and employee pensions by future councils while his opponents wanted to ensure other services such as roads and recreation centers would also be funded.
Joining Reed in support of the public safety measure were Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and council members Sam Liccardo, Rose Herrera, Pete Constant and Johnny Khamis. They argued that the number of cops on the San Jose force has dropped from its peak of 1,400 last decade to about 1,000 now, with a corresponding decrease in arrests and increase in crime rates. The measure would have provided enough money to boost staffing levels up to about 1,250 officers.
"It is the No. 1 concern of our residents," Constant said.
The measure would have required two-thirds approval by voters, and a new poll showed support at 65 percent, though it rises to 71 percent when voters leaning toward approving the measure are included.
On the other side were council members Ash Kalra, Don Rocha, Xavier Campos and Kansen Chu, who favored a general-use sales tax bump, whereby the revenue could be used for any city services. That measure would require only a simple majority of support from voters to pass and polled at 57 percent, or 67 percent when including respondents leaning toward approving the measure.
"It makes no sense at all to go forward with a dedicated tax" on public safety, Kalra said, pointing to the poll numbers. "The choice is pretty clear-cut."
Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio voted against both tax proposals.
Council members also unanimously decided against a November measure that would have doubled the marijuana business tax from 10 percent to 20 percent, saying they'd already cracked down on pot shops enough with strict new regulations enacted in June. What's more, the council rejected two other proposed measures -- to soften some provisions of the 2012 Measure B pension reforms, and to hold employee union negotiations in public -- but agreed to place a measure on the ballot to allow the city's retirement boards to hire a CEO.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at Twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.