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County Issue / Sales Tax : California Gov. Pete Wilson has called a Nov. 2 special election in which counties may make a temporary half-cent sales tax permanent, while adding another half-cent sales tax, to subsidize local government services that are facing cutbacks. Is this an appropriate way to solve county governments' financial problems?

June 14, 1993

Don Kendall, General manager, Calleguas Municipal Water District

No. The reason he's calling for a special election now is that he doesn't want anything to appear on the ballot when he's running for reelection. Secondly, it's unfair to counties because it's disproportionate. Some counties are going to pass it and some won't. If you're a county, you're trying to attract business and local development. Those that pass it are penalizing themselves versus other counties that aren't. The fundamental problem is that Sacramento is not owning up to its responsibility. (Wilson's) gone one step below that by trying to push it off on a special election so he won't have to face it when he comes up for reelection. (Calleguas is) facing a loss of $3.5 million. The county is facing a loss of $9 million over that. We're taking the fifth-largest hit of all the 58 counties in California. And yet he wants to come here and tell us to put a local tax issue back on the ballot. The state should take responsibility for that. If they have to pass a statewide tax issue, they have to do it. At least that spreads it uniformly in the state at a lower cost to everybody.

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Cathie Wright, State senator; member, Senate Budget Review Committee

First of all, all he's doing is giving counties the opportunity, because he cannot call an election for the sales tax. That is something the counties would have to do. First they have to get a vote of the supervisors. Ipersonally don't think you're going to be able to get the counties to vote for that kind of a tax. I don't think people will vote for it. I can understand why the governor's doing that. If the state was to raise the tax, it would mean that the counties wouldn't get it. A good proportion of it would go to the schools. It wouldn't really help that much to help balance the budget. If the county asks for it, they get 100% of the tax dollar. Proposition 13 just came home to roost. What happened in the 1978-79 go-round was that the state just happened to have some surplus money and bailed out the cities and counties for some of the money they were losing. The mistake that the state made was to continue to backfill the cities and counties all these years. Now we're at the point where there's no more money to backfill. I just feel that people are so stressed out they're not going to vote for it.

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George Lund, Ventura County fire chief

It's probably the most appropriate way to deal with the needs of the fire district. Rather than impacting property owners, you're impacting everyone who lives in the county and chooses to purchase. The problem we see with it is the politics of forcing the local government to go to an election. It's probably not realistic that they'll be able to get that money, so it's the governor's way of putting the problem back on the local level. We've been holding community meetings as a result of our assessment (proposal). The consensus that I'm hearing from these meetings is that the sales tax is preferred to a benefit assessment. But to say there's a simple majority that would approve it is another question. People are saying loud and clear they don't want any more taxes, but people are saying that they would prefer a sales tax where they can have a choice. Local politicians just don't see it as a realistic option. What the governor's going to say is, "Well, you had your chance and the people just don't want to pay the extra money, so cut services."

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Nao Takasugi, State assemblyman, former Oxnard mayor

The governor's proposal is saying that local problems ought to be faced up to by local officials. Of course, being one several months ago, I was on the other side of the fence, even coming up to Sacramento with my hands open. Now I'm on the other side of the fence as a legislator having to make those cuts. This is a very grim year because of the depths of the recession. The state is broke. I think the governor is proposing this because he has looked elsewhere and cannot seem to find other places where the budget shortfall can be made up to the tune of $2.6 billion. According to the (state) constitution, the first part of the revenues have to go to education. That is why he needs to shift the $2.6 billion over to the education budget. To make up that $2.6 billion, he's proposing that the counties take the option to the people to vote to make up that shortfall to beef up police and fire services. I think from my past experience, the mood of the voters and taxpayers is "no new taxes." Whatever the outcome, I think the counties need to take the position that we need to put this to a vote of the people and let them decide.

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Vicky Howard, Ventura County supervisor

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