Voters are being asked to impose a half-cent transaction and use tax increase on themselves without any specification as to what the funds would be used for beyond general municipal purposes, and then approve a non-binding advisory measure which would tell the Santa Monica City Council that residents would prefer that half of the $12 million raised by this tax be allocated to the local school district.
Although we certainly support and recognize their very-real budget plight of our schools, we at the Mirror do not support Measure Y – not because of the school part of the measure, but because of City-funding part. This decision was not arrived on lightly, and in truth, was toiled over until the last possible minute. Many in the city can sympathize with this dilemma, as evidenced by the many groups who have not taken a stance on it, including the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. In fact the only big-name public official to deplore this measure, Mayor Bobby Shriver, has the fortune of not having to defend his incumbency in this election.
In the end, we felt both Measure Y and Measure YY were not precisely worded or not binding enough for our comfort. Funds allocated to the general fund would be hard to track. Proponents argue these funds are essential to preserving proactive City services, especially in the face of looming deficits thanks largely to Sacramento’s overreaching and thieving arms. We were told that any further cuts to Santa Monica would affect our police, fire, paramedics, libraries, gang prevention, environmental, and youth and senior services. It is said that passing Measure Y is integral to a larger strategy to protect ourselves from those kinds of cuts.
However, if you take this argument as true and do the math, you find that the overall projected $12 million this tax would provide only represents 4.7 percent of Santa Monica’s $255.1 million general fund. Compared to the overall budget of $553.6 million, the expected $12 million this would generate represents not even 2.2 percent. By the City’s own estimates, general fund revenues are projected to grow by a modest 2.1 percent in FY2010-11 and another 3.5 percent in FY2011-12.
Furthermore, if Mesure YY passes, the City will only keep half of that and give the other half to the schools. So if the City wants to allocate that amount to the schools, we feel it can take it from its overall budget, of which $6 million dollars is not even 1.1 percent. Can our police, fire, paramedics, libraries, gang prevention, environmental, and youth and senior services really depend on such a small percentage?
Compared to our own budgets, that 1.1 percent seems like not much at all, except when we are talking about putting the overall sales tax past the 10 percent mark. Although studies have indicated that these kinds of taxes have not directly impacted businesses, we are still nervous about the impact it would have. So are many of the car dealers, jewelers, and other high-cost purveyors in the city.
We don’t buy the argument that being against Measure Y means you are against schools. The Mirror has demonstrated its support of schools by endorsing the failed Measure A and by endorsing those candidates for City Council who support Measure Y. And we certainly recognize how amazing the Save Our School campaign was and that its success cannot be sustained. But that is not what this is about.
This is about how poorly structured Measure Y is (and its accompanying Measure YY).
Should it pass though, we support Measure YY, but we think the City can afford to help the schools out for one more year until it can come up with a better plan that is more specific than Measure Y. We don’t have the answer to these problems, but we don’t think Measure Y does either.