"Your Turn" Article in CC Times - No Pleasant Hill Tax - the "No on Measure T" campaign
Your Turn: Pleasant Hill's Measure T is the wrong tax at the wrong time
By Wendy Lack
Guest Commentary
Posted: 09/27/2010 12:01:00 AM PDT

Pleasant Hill's Measure T will add a 1.5 percent tax on most utilities including cell phones and telecommunication services, electricity, gas, cable, water and sewer on top of the tax currently charged on land line intrastate phone bills.

The city estimates this new tax will generate $870,000 annually from those living and operating businesses in Pleasant Hill.

Pleasant Hill's City Council rushed to get Measure T on the November ballot because city income from sales tax and other sources has declined due to the poor economy. But what has the city done to substantially reduce costs? How can higher taxes paid by residents and businesses benefit the local economy?

The city of Pleasant Hill (population 33,000) has 22 employees -- about 20 percent of its workforce -- whose annual base pay exceeds $100,000. Employees pay nothing toward their PERS pension benefits but if they did so city pension costs could be cut by one-third.

Renegotiating labor contracts to reflect the customary employee pension contributions (9 percent for police, 7 percent for non-police) could save taxpayers over $840,000 annually, which is nearly the same amount that Measure T will generate. Cities throughout the state are revisiting labor agreements to increase employees' pension plan contributions and Pleasant Hill should, too.

Voters should reject Measure T because it is unnecessary and unaffordable for residents and small businesses during

the current economic slump. Why should residents pay higher taxes while the city operates "business as usual"? Raising taxes now will remove any incentive for government to live within its means. Why would the city reduce costs once it is addicted to getting over $1 million of your hard-earned tax dollars every year?

Raising taxes on basic household necessities will hit hardest on seniors and businesses with high utility use at a time when fixed-income residents and businesses are least able to afford it. While city officials are fond of minimizing Measure T's potential impacts, this tax will place an additional strain on taxpayers' overstretched budgets and grow over time as utility rates increase. Good thing the city made sure this new tax also applies to late fees.

The effective unemployment rate in California is 17 percent. Raising taxes on seniors, families and small businesses now simply adds insult to injury. Residents will pay this tax twice -- once at home and again when they shop in Pleasant Hill and pay higher prices that reflect the inevitable pass-through of this tax to customers.

Increasing the numbers of empty storefronts in town will do nothing to boost Pleasant Hill's sales tax receipts.

Pleasant Hill -- with approximately $8 million in cash reserves -- has infinitely more ways to reduce its expenses than do residents. Voters should reject Measure T and tell city officials to do their fair share by getting serious about reducing expenses to ensure Pleasant Hill's long-term financial security and economic vitality.

Wendy Lack is a resident of Pleasant Hill.

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