The San Luis Obispo City Council didn’t heed Ken Hampian’s warning.
Shortly before city councilmembers voted on whether to begin the process of sending Measure Y back to voters for possible renewal, Hampian, the former SLO city manager, said their decision could affect the perception of voters.
“If you are tepid or divided about the measure, it will negatively impact the outcome,” he said.
Yet city councilmembers remained divided on whether to pursue a renewed half-percent sales tax measure. Before them was a proposal to initiate the ballot process and direct city staffers to begin writing draft language for a measure and bring it back by July 1 in order to appear on the November ballot.
SLO voters first approved Measure Y in 2006 with an eight-year sunset. If left untouched, the measure that was designed primarily to fund capital improvement projects (though many critics have questioned how much money has gone back into public infrastructure rather than employee compensation) will expire, and with it about an annual $6 million.
Though there were few critics who spoke against sending the measure back to voters, councilmembers Kathy Smith and Dan Carpenter opposed continuing Measure Y in its present form. Smith said she didn’t have trust in city administrators to spend the money in a transparent way, and asked that the city change the measure from general use to a special purpose tax, which, among other restrictions, would require a two-thirds vote of the public rather than a simple majority. Smith said she worries renewed Measure Y money could end up funneling back to public safety employee salaries after a recent favorable ruling over binding arbitration (the city is appealing that ruling).
Carpenter questioned the independence of a Local Revenue Measure Advisory Committee and said it was stuffed with like-minded individuals who gave city officials the favorable feedback they wanted about Measure Y.
“Bureaucracies like us become addicted to the revenues,” Carpenter said. “… I cannot support the uncertainty of commingling of tax dollars that lends itself to a breeding ground of unintended consequences.”
While a majority of the City Council voted to move forward with Measure Y (Smith and Carpenter dissented), the language will require at least four votes when it comes back for final approval.
Anticipating that Smith and Carpenter will vote against that final language in July, Mayor Jan Marx encouraged residents to create a voter initiative if the city is unable to put something on the ballot.
“If two members of this council intend to obstruct … then I think the citizens are going to have to organize an initiative in order to accomplish the same thing,” she said.