Bay Area tax measures get mixed reception, San Jose voters approve pension reform
In a sign that enthusiasm for new taxes amongst Bay Area voters might be cooling, the 27 tax and bond measures on Tuesday’s ballot in the six core Bay Area counties received a decidedly mixed reception from voters.
19 of the measures passed or were leading as of Wednesday morning, including all but one of the school facility bond measures facing voters. But two of three high-profile tax initiatives targeting SFO travelers failed in San Mateo County, and an Alameda sales tax hike which city leaders argued was desperately needed to pay for public safety fell far short of the required two-thirds margin.
Voters approve taxes for schools, less enthusiastic about other taxes
With the ongoing state budget crisis squeezing local government coffers across California, and Bay Area voters’ past receptiveness to new taxes, that local officials would continue to try to submit tax measures to voters isn’t entirely surprising.
And at least when it came to schools, voters continued to back new tax and bond measures. 11 of the 14 tax and bond measures put forward by K-12 school and community college districts passed:
- Bonds to pay for facilities improvements passed or were passing in the Dublin, Milpitas, and Cupertino Unified School Districts, the Mountain View-Whisman School District, and the West Valley-Mission Community College District in Santa Clara County. A bond measure in the Cabrillo Unified School District in San Mateo County was clearing the 55% threshold required for school bonds by just 14 votes, or 0.3% of the nearly 5,000 votes cast, while a measure in the Antioch Unified School District was about 1.5 percentage points short of passage.
- Parcel tax measures supporting the Hayward Unified School District, the Redwood City School District, San Mateo County’s Jefferson Unified School District, and the Ross Valley School District passed or were above the required 2/3 threshold as of Wednesday morning, as was a measure supporting the East Bay’s Peralta Community College District. But parcel tax measures in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and Alameda County’s New Haven Unified School District were falling just short of the required supermajority.
But tax measures supporting other local governments had a much rougher reception, with 5 of 13 such measures failing:
- Voters approved half-cent sales tax hikes — subject to a majority-vote requirement — in Hercules, Pittsburg, and San Pablo. But a half-cent sales tax increase in the city of Alameda fell far short of its required 2/3 threshold, barely achieving majority support.
- A pair of San Mateo County measures which would have increased taxes on hotel stays and parking in unincorporated areas of the county — designed to bring in revenue from SFO travelers — were rejected by voters by similar 53.5-46.5 margins. Meanwhile, a companion measure which would increase taxes on car rentals was a stark reminder that every single vote matters: the measure led by 62 votes — a miniscule 0.07% of the 86,782 votes cast — as of Wednesday morning. Tens of thousands of absentee and provisional ballots remain uncounted and will likely decide the fate of that measure.
- Parcel taxes to support public safety services cleared the required 2/3 threshold in Marin County’s Muir Beach Community Services District and San Mateo County’s Fire Services Area No. 1, but failed in the town of Ross and in the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
- A parcel tax to support park maintenance in the Crockett Community Services District passed, while a parcel tax to support road maintenance in Portola Valley’s tiny Wayside Road Maintenance District — home to just 54 registered voters — passed on an 18-3 vote.
Support for Tuesday’s tax and bond measures was down from November 2011, where 20 of 25 such measures passed, and roughly in line with November 2010, where about 60 percent of 56 tax and bond measures on the ballot were approved. The break in the trend established by previous elections, where the vast majority of tax measures were approved, could indicate that the voter appeal of new taxes is declining in the current tough economic times.
San Jose voters approve cutting current city workers’ pensions
Other local measures of note in the Bay Area:
- San Jose voters approved Measure B, which modifies the pensions of current city workers by increasing worker contributions or reducing benefits, in a 70-30 landslide. Supporters, including San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, argued that it’s unfair to cut critical city services in order to meet pension fund requirements. But city unions, who argued the increased contributions will drastically cut many employees’ take-home pay and accused the city of not taking negotiations with the unions seriously, will file suit to challenge the legality of the measure. The resulting court case could take years to resolve.
- Voters in cash-strapped Hercules, which considered filing for bankruptcy earlier in the year, approved the sale of the city’s money-losing municipal electric utility by more than the required 2/3 margin.
- San Francisco voters crushed by a 77-23 margin an attempt to force the city’s garbage collection contract, currently held by Recology, out to a competitive bid.
- Antioch voters overwhelmingly rejected measures which would have converted the city’s treasurer and clerk posts to appointed positions and eliminated its directly elected mayor in favor of allowing the City Council to appoint one of its own as mayor. Supporters argued the measures would save the city money, while opponents portrayed them as an attempt to reduce voters’ power.
Contact Steven Luo at firstname.lastname@example.org.