Councilmember Sam Liccardo has drafted a memo to explore a ballot measure that would increase local sales taxes to specifically fund public safety.
In Friday’s special meeting, the last city council session of the fiscal year, Liccardo will suggest the office of City Manager Debra Figone conduct polling this summer to see if the public is willing to increase sales taxes to restaff a police department that is experiencing layoffs for the first time in the city’s history. The San Jose Police Department is losing 122 officers to layoffs and more than 200 positions total when retirements and vacant jobs that will not be filled are included. Liccardo’s proposal, which would also help maintain and possibly increase fire department staffing, will not prevent any of these layoffs.
“I think a really essential context for this is we’re not looking to tax and spend here,” Liccardo said, noting the 10 percent compensation concessions made by police and firefighters. “It’s in a context where we’re doing everything we can to tighten the belt, but we need to find a way to get more officers on the street.
“Five years ago we were the most thinly staffed police department of any major city in the nation,” he added.
While no one else has signed the memo, Liccardo says he has the support of Mayor Chuck Reed, Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and councilmembers Pete Constant and Rose Herrera.
If polling indicates the public is open to a tax increase to save public safety jobs, Liccardo is hoping it will be on the November ballot. If approved, the tax would go into effect at the beginning of next year.
Also in Liccardo’s memo is a proposal to have a public session in which city staff, the 11 public employee unions and actuaries will be present to discuss and clarify the city’s pension crisis. The city has said it will be on the hook for ballooning retirement costs that are unfunded. Estimates range between $400 and $650 million by 2015.
Liccardo’s memo suggests the city should conduct polling on whether it would be better to put forward a ballot measure for a sales tax increase alone or with measures regarding pension reform.