The Right Way to Raise Taxes

San Jose’s polling on a sales tax increase shows voters are ready to approve new revenues for city services, especially for police and fire. And despite the analysis of some observers that the poll is misleading—it is not—the numbers look very solid.

The real question isn’t the polling, though. It’s the whether a tax increase is merited. There is no question that city services are hurting, from police and fire to libraries and parks. Certainly more revenue is necessary. But given San Jose’s current stewardship, do voters really want to give city leadership more money before they get their house in order?

Gov. Jerry Brown is the model for leadership when it comes to asking for new revenue. He refused to go to voters until he had specific policies in place to address the systemic problems with government. Only then did he ask for help—and voters responded positively.

The current majority on this City Council have not been good stewards of public money. Mayor Chuck Reed does deserve some credit for his personal leadership in keeping his own salary and benefits in check. Having said that, the policies pursued by the city have been disastrous for San Jose as a whole.

The woeful lack of services currently provided by the city is the main reason people support a higher sales tax. More revenue is part of the answer, but it should come at the end of a bigger process, not the beginning.

More revenue will not solve City Hall’s morale problem by itself. It certainly will not contribute to more police officers, as San Jose’s employment policies remain uncompetitive to potential law enforcement professionals, who can easily ply their services elsewhere for better compensation and benefits.

More revenue will not, in and of itself, make San Jose an attractive opportunity for management positions. San Jose pays plenty for executive talent, but few competent people are willing to risk their reputation and career on a management position that does not give the individual in charge an opportunity to succeed.

Also, there are too many executive positions already. Some of the 29 different city departments need to be consolidated, especially on the executive level. In addition, given one assistant city manager, eight deputy city managers or director equivalents and five assistants to the city manager positions in San Jose, it is hard to envision what the top job entails—other than eating bon-bons, watching FOX News and attending City Council meetings.

Before the city asks voters to tax themselves, it would be better to address some of these issues to ensure that their money is not being wasted. That’s Gov. Brown’s model and it should be used in San Jose.

The City does need more revenue, and much of it could come from a revitalized economy. Some money may have to come from increased taxes. The citizens of San Jose recognize that there is a problem and they’re willing to help, according to the polling. In that sense, it’s smart for the city to strike while the iron is hot and get a tax measure on the ballot. Just don’t burn the voters after the fact.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

5 Comments

  1. “Gov. Jerry Brown is the model for leadership when it comes to asking for new revenue. He refused to go to voters until he had specific policies in place to address the systemic problems with government. Only then did he ask for help—and voters responded positively.

    The current majority on this City Council have not been good stewards of public money. Mayor Chuck Reed does deserve some credit for his personal leadership in keeping his own salary and benefits in check. Having said that, the policies pursued by the city have been disastrous for San Jose as a whole.”

    Are you suggesting that the pro Measure B majority on the City Council has acted fiscally irresponsible by attempting to halt the rapid growht of the city’s unfunded liabilities? Have you gone full Orwell? Is up down, now?

  2. Yes I am. It is one thing to seek a solution, it is another to pass one that does not pass Constitutional muster and simply exacerbates the problem. It is not reasonable or responsible to support legislation that will not solve the problem and actually costs the taxpayers more in trying to impose the impossible solution. Everybody knew it at the time, it was done solely for political reasons without regard to the taxpayers, employees, process, Constitution or reasonable policy.

    The pension measures were examples of the worst government has to offer. It is putting politics over policy and personal self-aggrandizement ahead of the public welfare. It is a farce.

    • The destruction this mayor and his voting block have done to the workforce, particularly the police department, is incomprehensible. Although much too late to do any good, I appreciate Councilman Rocha addressing the damage this mayor has wrought.

  3. Regressive taxation receiving strong voter support by definition means the polling instrument is corrupt. Same results if the issues are separated? I bet not. Should we try to regain a soiled police force? This has to poll high. Should taxes be levied that are disproportionally paid by those with the least income? Or would you favor a tax that is paid in proportion to income or wealth? Those are the better questions.