The easiest money for Government to get from you, is sales tax measures. They take very little work by Government to pass them, they never seem to end, and they bring in dollars for all kinds of much needed things that, arguably, could either be done without, or paid for with some restructuring of priorities.
I understand how important an extension of Measure M is to fund much needed projects for road repair in Sonoma County. Our ECA Board of Directors has given me my “marching orders” to support a Measure M tax extension. Our Board agrees that going to the voters in November is not a good idea, but should the SCTA Board of Directors vote to do so, and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agree with that and vote to put the sales tax extension on the ballot in November, you can be assured that Yours Truly will do all I can to see it supported and hopefully, passed.
With that said, I know the SCTA Board of Directors listened carefully to what the Windsor Town Council said last night as they discussed whether to go to the voters in November or not. The Windsor Town Council gave a 5-0 Consensus direction to their SCTA Board of Director, Sam Salmon, to vote no on going to the voters in November. Mayor Dominic Foppoli and his fellow Town Council members basically said “show me some polling data that says voters would actually support this, and I can be able to change my mind. But for now, given the voters saying no to firefighters in March and to the SMART train in March, it is crazy to think the voters would support a tax extension in November with 25% unemployment in Sonoma County.”
The SCTA has made it clear that they are moving forward to “keep their options open” as to proceeding with the ballot measure in November or not.
Moving forward in November is not the real topic of this Op ed piece today. The real thrust of this is to consider that sales tax measures are doomed for the foreseeable future.
The current Measure the truly wonderful Suzanne Smith is trying to find support for, is basically a 65% split towards fixing roads and a 35% split towards “Climate Change” items like increased bike/ped paths and more dollar to bus transit. Whatever the split, the needed vote from the citizens is 2/3 have to say YES. If the SCTA Board decides on May 11 to keep the option of going to ballot in November open, polling will be done in June. It is plain to see how tough it is going to be to pass a sales tax measure without a “shining star” like we had in 2004 with “Three Lanes All The Way” as we taxed ourselves to widen Highway 101. In an effort to head off opposition more than to appease anyone, the “compromise” of increasing dollars to climate change enthusiasts while holding on to a 65% allocation to make our roads smoother, is intended to minimize those groups of voters who would oppose the Measure.
Today, there are other groups that are unhappy with the ballot measure split of 65% to roads, and 35% to bike/ped paths and public transit. I hear there is strong lobbying efforts being made to the SCTA Board of Directors by groups that are primarily concerned with Climate Change, to demand more dollars from a Measure M tax go to climate change issues rather than fixing our bad roads in SoCo. The ECA has taken the position to the SCTA Board that we could support the current 65% to roads and 35% to bike/ped and public transit, but if those numbers shift away from road repair, you may not be able to count on the ECA for active support. This is the same message coming from the “pro bus” contingent. Their message is if you do not allocate more dollars than 35% to climate change reduction, then we cannot support the Measure and we will oppose it.
What a freakin’ mess.
On one hand, if you had a Measure with 100% going to road repair, I am not sure you could get all of our ECA Members to agree to tax themselves. You might get 2/3 that is needed, but you would certainly get opposition from the substantial group that wants climate change issues funded. On the other hand, if you had a Measure that had 100% allocated to reducing climate altering GHG’s, I suspect you would not get 100% of the “environmentally progressive” group to support that either. I suspect they want more than a ¼ cent sales tax for their issues.
Is it time to call the attempt to have a sales tax measure attractive to too many people as the wrong approach? Maybe it is time to have a very specific “fix and smooth our roads and make our bridges safe” tax measure that does not consider (other than what is legally obligated to consider) climate change issues. That would allow the group that wants to fund climate change mitigation measures (increased bike/ped paths, increased bus transit routes, subsidies to modernize the bus engines to non-carbon, etc. etc.) to promote their own tax measure.
So, the poor SCTA is trying to find a middle ground that probably does not exist. The middle ground is what they are proposing now 65% for roads and 35% for bike/ped and public transit. And that is not “floating anybody’s boat” as far as I can tell. As the Windsor Town Council iterated, if you can show me some polling results that support it, I could change my mind. But for now, given the Pandemic crisis we are in, given the ideological impasse between groups that want no road dollars vs groups that want no bus dollars, I think any effort to ask the voters to approve a sales tax measure in November is dead on arrival.
If my opinion is correct, what does that mean? Should the Feds ever get done with their partisan standoff, there is an infrastructure bill that is long overdue and that is being worked on. Primarily, to receive those future funds, A County has to demonstrate that they are taxing themselves for their infrastructure work and they would “qualify”. It is far more complex than that, but for the purpose of an Op Ed piece, that simplified explanation will suffice. Bottom line, if we do not approve a Measure M sales tax measure, we miss out on lots of Fed dollars that will then go to other Counties that are self-help.
Sales tax measures to fund anything will be very tough to pass in the near future. Maybe for a lot longer than the near future. If voters are not making as much as they used to, will any of us check the box to have more dollars removed from your wallet? And if that sales tax measure is trying to appease to all groups, both “pro bus transit and pro fix our damn roads”, will there be enough in it for either group to overcome the reality of the “new economics”? Maybe it is time to quit trying to pass sales tax measures that appease everybody. If a sales tax measure has a chance to succeed, make it really simple. The proceeds will go towards making our roads and bridges safer and smoother. Now taxpayers can clearly look at it and decide whether they can support it or not. That is quite different than “not opposing it”.
I think if tax measures are put to voters in an attempt to get many of them to “not oppose it” rather than clearly give the taxpayer a benefit that is measurable for their tax contribution, tax measures are likely dead on arrival.
That’s All Folks
What the ECA Has Been Doing to Represent ECA Members
Given the focus on the Covid-19 Crisis, it seems like all news revolves around Shelter in Place orders and Essential Work these days. Here is what the ECA has been up to:
- Every week, I participate on a Zoom meeting with the Executive Directors of The Farm Bureau, AGC, NCBE, Sonoma County Alliance, North bay Association of Realtors and the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber. We exchange news and info with the purpose of preserving the rights of businesses to operate safely during the Covid-19 Crisis.
- Once a week I participate with a Zoom meeting with Sonoma County Supervisors David Rabbitt and Lynda Hopkins. Frank discussions as to how the Health Orders are being generated and applied are held. Clear and continuous proactive measures are promoted for ECA type work such that our work will continue to be allowed and expanded. From submission of “Best Management Practices” to touting our Webinar on Covid-19 safety protocol all matter. Your business interests are being supported and continuously promoted to the decision makers.
- Two weeks ago, we held a free Webinar (mentioned above) on Covid-19 safety protocol. Every time I discuss how our industry is proactive, this is utilized as an example. It makes a difference. Another Webinar is being planned as you read this.
- Every week I participate on a Zoom conference with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and its Manager, Sheba Person-Whitley. The purpose of these Zoom conferences is to provide input as to the current Health Order work protocols, and which of those protocols can actually be implemented, and which cannot be. It is commonly known that Dr. Mase is not consulting directly with anybody in the Construction world but rather she is relying on the Governor’s office as well as other Health Directives to formulate Sonoma County Health Orders. Many of the protocol items in the SoCo Health order are manageable to your firms. It is a small price to pay to keep you and your employees safe and allow you to work on projects. We are better off than many businesses that have more severe shutdowns in place. These dialogs with EDB are useful and put us in the same conference working with decision makers like Tennis Wick, Gabe Osburn and Jesse Oswald. Keeping a close collaborative working relationship with these folks is integral with our success and your success.
- I participate every two weeks on a Metro Advocacy Zoom Meeting. As you can imagine, keeping our other working groups healthy is paramount to our own success. We need to work to resurrect tourism, restaurants and bars, and other businesses. To that end, Peter Rumble from the Metro, has been doing a tremendous job supporting the concept of basic health standards protocol by Sonoma County Health Officer, while holding businesses to meeting those health standards with much more detailed plans for their specific business. This is gaining traction and will lead to a quicker reopening of businesses than if we stay reactive rather than proactive.
6. On Wednesday, myself along with Dave Weller, Dale Mahoney and Dick Ghilotti, participated in a “Reopening Task Force” meeting designed to provide pragmatic feedback to protocols in place that Contractors, suppliers, truckers and engineers and consultants have to adhere to. We participated with Labor (OE3), other Contractor groups (Bradley Electric), the Builders Exchange, and Gabe Osborn/Jesse Oswald and Raissa De La Rosa from SR Economic Development Board. While our Construction Work Group discussed and offered suggestions on the protocol measures, other groups were meeting to do the same (Hospitality groups, Tourism, Agriculture, etc.). All of the input is valuable and our participation proved to the decision influencers that our industry is as proactive as any and should be allowed to work because we are practicing Best Management Practices now and will continue to be proactive and responsible in the future. You cannot underestimate how important this is gang. We need to keep working!
- Finally, close relationships with the other Associations we have built such tremendous bonds with over the years allows us to influence protocol measures of the future. At the very least, the strength in numbers that we have as we collaborate with realtors, farmers, ranchers, commercial builders, engineering groups, tourism associations, and home builders is a powerful way to communicate with our elected officials. We need to keep that going. We need to keep supporting the ECA and we need to keep supporting the other groups we are closely aligned with (NORBAR, Farm Bureau, Sonoma County Alliance, North Coast Builders Exchange, Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, Association of General Contractors, and our local elected officials and their staffers.
We can get through this. But we need to support each other. With events being eliminated for the near future, I hope you all recognize the value the ECA brings and when dues renewals go out in June, we hope you all stick with us and work on solutions to the unprecedented crisis we find ourselves in. I stand with you, so please stand with me.