Three East Bay cities are asking voters to approve sales tax increases on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot to help reduce municipal budget deficits at the same time San Mateo County supervisors failed to get enough votes for a sales tax increase of their own.
The sales tax in Alameda County now stands at 9.75 percent, the highest in the state.
The Concord and Antioch city councils each unanimously passed resolutions Tuesday night to place proposals on the November ballot that would increase sales taxes by .5 percent as a way to close their budget deficits. If a majority of voters in each city support the measures, the sales tax in each city would be raised to 9.75 percent, or an additional 50 cents for every $100 of taxable purchases.
Items such as groceries, prescription medications and utility bills would not be subject to the tax, according to Concord City Manager Dan Keen.
Antioch's tax would expire in eight years and Concord's in five years. Both require a majority plus one vote to pass.
On July 19, the El Cerrito City Council also passed a similar resolution. El Cerrito's tax, which would expire in seven years, would bring that city's sales tax to 10 percent, the highest sales tax in Contra Costa County.
Shoppers in Pinole, Richmond and El Cerrito already pay 9.75 percent, according to the California Board of Equalization. As of April 1, all other cities in Contra Costa County now pay 9.25 percent.
In all three cities, the new tax would be used to fill existing budget deficits so that the cities could maintain their current service levels. The tax would not be used for special projects and would be subject to scrutiny from citizens' oversight committees.
Perhaps most importantly, the tax would stay in each city where it was imposed. The state would not be able to take any of it. According to Concord City Councilman Mark Peterson, the state has taken $33 million from Concord alone in the past decade, and the city has reduced its staff by 25 percent.
All three cities have said they have made all the budget cuts they can. If voters don't approve the new taxes, the city councils will have to start reducing their police forces.
But also Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted not to put a sales tax measure on the November ballot. The proposed quarter-cent increase would have generated $30 million annually for the county, but a plan to put it on the ballot only got the support of two of the five supervisors, spokesman Marshall Wilson said.
The county is looking at a budget deficit of more than $100 million for the next fiscal year, Wilson said.
The county's sales tax rate is 9.25 percent with the exception of the city of San Mateo, which has a 9.5 percent tax for retail transactions, according to Wilson.
The three supervisors who voted against the plan said the county could make additional cuts before asking for the help of voters, who are dealing with the bad economic climate, and that recently enacted bridge toll hikes should help, Wilson said.
The two supervisors in favor of the plan, Board President Richard Gordon and Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, argued that this is "precisely the time" to ask for a tax increase because "people in need come to the county for help, and we need to be able to have funds to provide them with that assistance," Wilson said.
All of the supervisors agreed, though, that it would be a struggle to mount a successful campaign so close to the November election, he said.
Wilson said the county has never asked voters for a general sales tax measure. He said supervisors discussed possibly proposing the measure again in 2012.