Though polling appeared to show San Jose voters are willing to pay more to restore public services, the City Council on Tuesday voted against placing any tax hikes on the November ballot.
While most council members wanted to present a measure to voters, they couldn't agree on whether it should be a general sales tax or one designated specifically for public safety. Six council members supported the designated public safety tax. The rest wanted tax revenue to boost a broader range of city services, including libraries and street repairs, but failed on a 4-7 vote.
The council voted 6-5 in favor of the public safety-specific quarter-cent sales tax measure. But under California law, the measure would've needed at least eight votes to make it to the ballot. A motion to add pavement maintenance for emergency vehicle routes failed on a 3-7-1 vote. (Councilman Don Rocha was out of the room.)
No one brought forward a motion to put the marijuana business tax increase on the ballot, so there was no vote. The proposal asked to double the tax rate on pot clubs from 10 to 20 percent.
Mayor Chuck Reed, Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and council members Johnny Khamis, Pete Constant, Sam Liccardo and Rose Herrera supported the public safety-specific tax, arguing that it reflected voters' priorities of hiring more cops. They also expressed worry that funds from a general tax could be wasted on non-essential services.
Council members Rocha, Ash Kalra, Xavier Campos and Kansen Chu wanted to make sure some of the revenue went to fund other services, including libraries and the mounting backlog of road repairs.
Kalra said it's naive to think that $34 million in public safety tax revenue would fix the retention problem at the San Jose Police Department, which he blames on Reed's pension reforms.
"We need to fix the problems with Measure B and enact pension reforms that are actually legal," Kalra said. "Having a dedicated public safety tax is not going to get more officers in the department and it’s not going to turn the tide in neighborhoods ..."
In memos leading up to the meeting, Rocha also criticized the council majority for opposing a general sales tax.
“Viewed purely through the lens of fiscal sustainability, restricting revenue to public safety would actually be a problem, as it would prevent us from devoting at least a portion of the revenue to road maintenance,” Rocha wrote. “Our pavement maintenance backlog is growing every day, and is beginning to approach the magnitude of our unfunded pension liabilities. I understand that solving the unfunded pavement maintenance problem might not be as exciting for some of my colleagues as solving the unfunded pension problem as it does not present an opportunity to kick public employee unions along the way, but it is no less serious an issue. Pursuing a special public safety tax would completely ignore this problem."
Also on Tuesday, the council voted to place one charter change on the November ballot. If approved, the proposal would give the independent boards that oversee the city's pension funds to hire an at-will CEO among other changes.
Two proposals were referred to city staff to continue the meet and confer process with city unions: 1. Employee pension modifications; and 2. Holding employee bargaining sessions in public.