November 2020 Ballot Measures

There are twelve Sonoma County tax measures up for vote in November.  How many of these tax measures you will be asked to decide depends of course on where you live as many of these taxes are sponsored by cities or special districts spread across Sonoma County.  In the paragraphs following we provide you with our synopsis of these tax measures and our recommendations to assist you make an informed vote.

            Measure O – County of Sonoma, Mental Health and Homeless Services Sales Tax.  This is a new 10-year ¼ cent sales tax intended to raise $25 million annually to augment the county’s mental health and homeless services.  This tax is similar to past sales taxes for roads, libraries, parks, and fire services.  The board of supervisors continues to cherry pick high profile services in its ongoing efforts to extract additional tax dollars from you while at the same time refusing to address skyrocketing pension obligations that take money away from these basic government services.  Until the county makes meaningful efforts to address its pension liabilities, SoCoTax recommends a NO vote on Measure O.

            Measure DD – Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Go Sonoma Act.  This tax is billed by proponents as a “renewal” of Measure M, the ¼ cent 20-year sales tax originally approved by voters back in 2004.  Measure M provided funding for Highway 101 widening and expires in 2024.  Measure DD is really a new tax that is only similar to Measure M in that it shares the same ¼ cent tax rate.  Measure DD’s 20-year term begins in 2024 upon Measure M’s expiration.  Measure DD tax proceeds are allocated 65% to road repairs and traffic improvement; 35% to buses and bicycle paths.  We at SoCoTax have mixed feelings about Measure DD.  On one hand, we find disingenuous the argument that Measure DD is simply an extension of an existing tax.  It isn’t.  Measure DD is a new tax with new objectives and a new term.   On the other hand, we have no dispute with SCTA’s use of Measure M funds.  It has largely achieved what was promised and has been successful in leveraging local dollars with grants from state and federal sources.  Concern has been expressed by some in our organization that too much of the money is allocated to buses and bike paths.  Others find the allocation appropriate.  We’ll let you decide for yourself on that one.  SoCoTax is taking no position on Measure DD.

            Measure Q – City of Santa Rosa, Sales Tax Extensions.  There is a lot not to like here.  This measure seeks to consolidate two previously approved ¼ cent sales taxes, one specifically approved to help Santa Rosa weather the financial recession of the past decade while the second was approved specifically to help offset losses caused by the 2017 wildfires.  The recession is largely behind us and Santa Rosa just received $95 million from PG&E to cover wildfire losses.  Rather than letting these two taxes expire as originally promised, Santa Rosa seeks to combine and continue the two into a single ½ cent tax for general operational expenses.  SoCoTax finds reprehensible the practice of exploiting a crisis or disaster to justify new “temporary” taxes only to turn around and continue them indefinitely under the guise of needed operational funding.  SoCoTax believes promises made should be kept.  We recommend NO on Measure Q.

            Measure U – City of Petaluma, Sales Tax.  This is a new sales tax at a whopping 1% rate that never expires, a so-called “forever tax” if you like.  As with the county and other cities, Petaluma has refused to meaningfully address its pension problems, which consume greater and greater portions of its general fund every year.  While that alone is sufficient basis to reject this tax, more troubling is the permanent nature of the tax.  As discussed in greater detail below regarding Measures R, S, T and V, forever taxes mean voters are denied the opportunity to periodically review the council’s use of the money and decide for themselves whether renewal is justified or not.  Forever taxes create a lack of accountability and disincentive to transparency.  SoCoTax recommends NO on Measure U.

            Measures R (Cloverdale), S (Cotati), T (Healdsburg) and V (Sonoma).  We are lumping these four measures together because they are all substantially the same.  All four are renewals of existing taxes, but with an insidious twist – they never expire.  As touched on above regarding Petaluma’s Measure U, forever taxes deprive voters of the opportunity to periodically review their council’s performance.  Forever taxes are an underhanded attempt by city councils to escape future scrutiny.  Forever taxes undermine both accountability and transparency.  SoCoTax recommends NO on Measures R, S, T and V.  (Note: the Cloverdale measure is a utility users tax while the other three are sales taxes.)

Measures L (Shoreline Unified School District), M (Fort Ross School District), N (Sebastopol Union School District) and AA (Timber Cove Fire Protection District).  These four measures are renewals of existing parcel taxes.  Unlike the measures discussed above, these four renewals have fixed expirations.  Shoreline, Fort Ross and Sebastopol school districts are eight years each; Timber Cove is 15 years.  Beyond that, we don’t have enough information about these districts or their administration to offer a recommendation.  SoCoTax is taking no position on these measures.