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.

Meetings Moved to Flamingo Hotel

Come join us at our new venue, the Flamingo Hotel at Fourth and Farmers Lanes, Santa Rosa.  Sadly, our long-time meeting venue, the Fountaingrove Inn, was destroyed in the October fires that ravaged much of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.  We are pleased, however, that the Flamingo Hotel could accommodate us at our regular meeting dates every third Thursday of the month.  We look forward to seeing you there.

Dan Walters to Speak at Annual Meeting on February 16

Sign up for now for the annual membership meeting on February 16.  SoCoTax is pleased to have Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walter join us as our keynote speaker.  Mr. Walters always fills the room so get your registration in early.  To download the info, click here.

Can the Governor be Believed?

What are we to make of Jerry Brown’s promises that his proposed tax increases in November will benefit our schools? Call me naïve, but I like to give everyone, even politicians, the benefit of the doubt. Still, the Governor’s words and actions leave only the most naïve among us thinking any of that money will end up in the classroom. (more…)

SoCo Supervisorial Candidates’ Questionnaire

The Association requested each Supervisorial Candidate (except Michael McClure for which no contact information could be found) to respond to a questionnaire seeking their views regarding the Sonoma County pension crisis.  We are posting their responses as we receive them.  To view their responses, click on their names below.  If the link is inactive, no response has yet been received from that candidate.

First District                             Third District                         Fifth District

Mark Bramfitt                           Tim Smith                              Ernie Carpenter

Gina Cuclis                               Shirlee Zane                          Efren Carrillo

Susan Gorin                                                                          Veronica Jacobi

Joanne Sanders

John Sawyer

Why Is Brown Silent on Prop 29?

Are you curious as to why the Governor hasn’t spoken out on Prop 29?  Wouldn’t you expect our tax-loving governor to come out in support of a tax on cigarettes?  Maybe that $26,000 contribution by Phillip Morris to the Governor’s re-election campaign fund might have something to do with it.

Click here to read the full story.