Pro, con arguments submitted for sales tax measure

The upcoming sales tax measure officially got its name this week, Measure CR, which will ask Claremont voters to approve a .75 percent sales tax increase.

Measure CR will go before voters November 5, and if passed, will increase the sales tax rate in the city from 9.5 percent to the state cap of 10.25 percent.

The city says it is needed to maintain current services and inject up to $2.5 million a year into the general fund to stave off future budget deficits.

Opponents argue that CR is a “regressive tax” and said Measure CR is “bad for low-income families and small businesses.”

Both arguments in favor and against CR were submitted earlier this month.

The arguments for CR, which were submitted by Mayor Corey Calaycay, Nick Quackenbos, Lissa Petersen, Peter Alvarado and Sonja Stump and filed by Councilmember Jennifer Stark, urged residents to vote yes on CR “to secure the quality of life for Claremont residents now and in the future.”

Backers of the measure say the sales tax increase is needed to “secure proper funding for the level of services we’ve come to expect,” including police and public safety, youth and senior programs, maintenance of parks, streets and lighting.

The city is in a financial crisis, backers say, because of “unpreventable increases in insurance, utilities and pensions.” The city is facing a $1 million deficit this year, they said, with an estimated $1.8 million by 2021-2022. The money from the tax increase, backers say, would address those deficits and “will also provide reserves for future unanticipated cost increases and enhanced service levels.”

“We have the opportunity to act now,” backers said. “Secure the added tax dollars for Claremont. Secure our financial future.”

On the other side of the coin, the arguments against the measure, filed by Matt Magilke and submitted by Suzanne Angel, Christine Ide, Arman Ariane of Xerxes for Gents, Mojgan Ariane of Sula Boutique, and Kurt Bumiller, call Measure CR a “blank check” that is not earmarked for specific needs such as upgrades to the Claremont police station.

Instead, opponents claim the city will spend up to $27 million “over the next 10 years on automatic raises, higher pensions and annual bonuses.”

The city has said that even if part of the tax measure were earmarked for a single purpose, it would require a two-thirds voter approval under Prop 13.

Despite the Claremont Chamber of Commerce’s support, they said, “virtually every retailer in the Village opposes this tax.”

The Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors endorsed Measure CR on July 8. In their statement, the Chamber said while the board has historically scrutinized any proposed tax measure, it supports Measure CR “because it will ensure that Claremont tax dollars stay in Claremont” to fund services such as transportation, infrastructure and park maintenance.

Opponents have also said that city hall has a “history of making exaggerated and false claims,” including the failed takeover of the water system, two failed police station ballot measures which gave way to a plan to renovate the existing station, and the granting of bonuses to city hall employees in the midst of a budget deficit.

“City hall has consistently demonstrated they cannot be trusted to make good decisions and spend out tax dollars wisely,” the opponents concluded. “Please support our small businesses and keep Claremont affordable for everyone by voting no on Measure [CR].”

In their rebuttal, supporters of the measure claim that the city has taken the budget deficit seriously, and “worked diligently” to make $3.4 million in cuts to balance the budget in the past two fiscal years.

“A new source of revenue is needed urgently, and if we don’t act now, we will likely lose this revenue to the county or another local agency,” supporters claimed. 

Other San Gabriel Valley cities have already approved their own tax increases, including Pomona and Glendora, and supporters noted that the sales tax is not collected on items such as groceries and prescription drugs, “so low-income families will not be disproportionately impacted.”

Opponents also took issue with the idea of Claremont reaching the state sales tax cap of 10.25 percent if CR is passed. The city has said that Claremont must keep the final three-quarters of a cent in the city, as opposed to a county or state agency coming in and making up the difference.

“The state of California does not impose a 10.25 percent statewide maximum sales tax limit, and voting for Measure CR will not stop other agencies from raising Claremont’s sales tax even higher than that in the future,” opponents said, adding that the state is “highly unlikely” to exempt Claremont from paying into other potential ballot measures from LA County Fire and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD).

They cited Santa Fe Springs, where the tax rate is currently at 10.5 percent, higher than the state cap.

According to Ballotpedia, California has a minimum sales tax rate of 7.25 percent, and counties, municipalities and districts are allowed to increase local sales taxes in specific jurisdictions up to a total of 10.25 percent.

In Claremont, one percent of the overall 9.5 percent sales tax rate goes to the city, and if Measure CR passes, the city’s portion will be increased to 1.75 percent, bringing Claremont to the state’s cap of 10.25 percent.

In the case of Santa Fe Springs, the city lobbied state senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) to be included in a bill, SB 703, that aimed to allow Alameda and Santa Clara counties to raise sales taxes to 10.5 percent, above the 10.25 percent maximum set by the state, according to the Long Beach Post.

Since Santa Fe Springs had never previously collected local sales taxes, the city was given an exception through SB703 to exceed the state cap by passing a one percent transactions and use tax, bringing Santa Fe Springs total sales tax rate to 10.5 percent.

With a 75 percent approval, Santa Fe Springs voters passed Measure Y in November. The one percent tax increase went into effect this April.

Supporters of Measure CR claimed that the opposition, “sets forth a parade of horribles” they claim would come with Measure CR.

“Opponents predict disaster and scapegoat ‘city hall’ for all the things ‘they’ have done,” supporters concluded. “But ‘they’ are actually ‘we,’ the residents of Claremont, speaking at public meetings and through our elected council. And we will decide how these resources are spent and whether our tax dollars will stay in Claremont. Let’s secure our financial future by voting yes on Measure CR.”

A sales tax increase, opponents said, would hurt low-income families facing higher rents as well as seniors on fixed incomes.

“We should be focused on securing the financial future for small Village retailers, seniors and struggling families living paycheck to paycheck, rather than administrators at city hall,” they concluded.

Voters will decide at the November 5 election.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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