When the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday June 3rd to consider putting a sales tax proposal before voters, they have a complex set of issues to ponder in taking on such a political hot potato.
Such a predicament becomes evident following my blistering post last week criticizing a countywide sales tax plan favored by Richmond Supervisor John Gioia, to prop up failing Doctors Hospital and to support public safety programs in the County. The following day I received a call from Karen Mitchoff’s office. Her aide asked if I would like to come in and chat with the Supervisor about this matter.
I met Mitchoff at her district office at Todos Santos in a closed door meeting with no notes being taken. Although we disagree on many issues, this has never prevented us from having lively discussions on various subjects. This get together was no exception.
There are cases in the past, such as her insistence on holding the line on labor contracts with County workers, that we have agreed on, while there are other instances such as Mitchoff’s support of the Plan Bay Area , for which we have been at odds.
Gioia’s plan is to have a County wide sales tax to primarily fund health services for the poor and public safety, most notably in the area of fire fighting. To put the proposal on the ballot, the County Supervisors would have to get legislation passed in Sacramento to raise the cap on sales tax increases that local communities can demand of their constituents.
Curiously enough, it has been suggested that the sponsor in the Assembly to champion this special waiver would be Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who doesn’t even reside on Contra Costa County. And in a glorious case of musical chairs, it is possible that neither Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), nor Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), who both may run for the Senate seat to be vacated by Mark DeSaulnier (presumed to replace George Miller in Congress), do not want the stigma of being associated with raising taxes?
Mitchoff’s views on the need to pass a new sales tax increase and mine are quite different. Further subsidizing medical services for the poor, undocumented, and entitlement recipients because the payments hospitals receive from the Federal government are inadequate, doesn’t seem equitable to me. Since when should one government agency bail out another one at taxpayers’ expense?
In addition, I am not in favor of allocating more money for Confire until their pension plan problems and inefficient work rules are rectified.
After she listened to my concerns, Mitchoff said she agreed that it wasn’t right that the County is stuck with having to pay medical bills for the poor and uninsured but that this was a fact of life that could not be avoided. Regarding Confire, the Supervisor from Pleasant Hill said through her work on the County Retirement Board, and labor negotiations with unions, she is working to make emergency services delivery more efficient and economical.
Mitchoff’s point is that as a Supervisor, her duty is to carry out tasks mandated by the State Legislature. To her, it is not up to the County to withhold services that are required by law or because they are not a priority of its citizenry.
Therefore, it is likely that during the June 3 meeting the Board will commission a poll be taken to see if a measure were put on the ballot, would it have good chance to pass with the 50% plus one vote needed and for what amount. For this to take place three of the five Supervisors will need to give their approval to move forward.
If the sales tax increase is to be put before voters this fall, it is my guess the SUpervisors would likely ask for only a quarter percent, because there would be a better chance of passing it than a higher amount. Given the hostile mood of voters who are fed up with high taxes and the low return on services from various levels of government, this less ambitious tax will likely be deemed to be the most prudent way to go.
While Karen Mitchoff has in the past demonstrated having impressive progressive political credentials, she has raised the ire of late from public employee labor unions for not being generous enough in negotiating employment contracts.
In fact several months ago there was discussion among activists on the local Democratic Central Committee to find a candidate to oppose her in the election this year with a candidate who would be more sympathetic to organized labor. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) even went so far as picketing Mitchoff’s local fundraiser at a private home earlier in the year.
Eventually, after reading the tea leaves, it was agreed that opposing Mitchoff, who maintains a high approval rating in her district would be a suicide mission. As a result she is running unopposed for another four year term.
After we exchanged ideas on the efficacy of raising sales taxes, I asked why as an public official she did not have more to say about the legislature taking funds away from the Counties to “balance” the State budget while at the same time it initiates regional programs that do not directly benefit citizens? Mitchoff said this was not her function as a Country Supervisor. She had more than enough to do just carrying out her existing duties.
The Supervisor is not alone in this sentiment of locally elected officials being careful not to criticize their representatives in the Assembly and State Senate. While privately many city council members in the region complain that the State of California is basically screwing local communities in not allocating them badly needed tax revenues, most of them in Contra Costa remain passive when it comes to dealing with Sacramento.
Because of their ill treatment by the legislature, almost every city in the area has chosen to impose a half cent sales tax to pay for basic services and infrastructure expenses to recapture revenue that has been lost in the past decade or so. Were this new County tax to be enacted, it would be another case where the locals have been forced to fend for themselves.
Following this line of discussion I asked Supervisor Mitchoff if there wasn’t a temptation on her part to consider running for a legislative seat in Sacramento to fix problems and inequity in State Government? While not completely ruling out such a move she questioned how effective one could be in the Assembly as so much power goes through the Speaker’s office?
Besides, it is obvious Mitchoff likes her present job as Supervisor and the impact she can make in her constituents’ well being.