With economic calamity ahead, Elk Grove Councilmember Darren Suen says consumer sales tax increase needed

Elk Grove City Councilmember Darren Suen (center) presiding over a near-empty dais during the Wednesday, March
18 meeting of the Sacramento Transporation Authority. | 

Even though economists are saying the United States has already plunged into an economic recession as a result of the Coronavirus, with some predicting a depression, Elk Grove City Councilmember Darren Suen says a countywide sales tax increase should still be pursued. 

Suen, who serves as the chair of the Sacramento Transporation Authority, made those comments in a statement released following the Wednesday, March 18 meeting of the multijurisdictional agency that oversees funding for transportation projects through Sacramento County.

At that meeting, the STA board voted on an expenditure plan should voters approved a one-half cent sales tax increase proposed for the November ballot in Sacramento County to fund a variety of projects over the 40-year life of the tax. With the approval of the expenditure plan, the STA will now present it to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and municipalities.

While 13 of 16 member board approved the expenditure plan, three members voted against it. Those voting against it was Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost, who said with the current economic problems, it could be challenging to reach the two-thirds majority needed for approval.

Frost, a conservative Republican representing District 4 on the board of supervisors, noted in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area the Bay Area Transporation Authority recently decided against pursuing a sales tax increase this year because of the global pandemic and faltering economy. Noting this, Frost told her STA colleagues during the virtual meeting, that pursuit of the sales tax hike during a recession was inappropriate and would likely be defeated again by voters.  

"It is completely tone-deaf to think people are even able to think about a tax increase under the extreme circumstance we're all under," she said. "All the past comments that I had made [in favor of the measure] fade away and pale in comparison to the situation we have before us right now."    

While Frost and the two other dissenting STA board members Citrus Heights City Councilmember Steve Miller and Rancho Cordova City Councilmember Garrett Gatewood were outnumbered, their dissent indicated fissures among board members of not only the expenditure plan but the appropriateness of pursuing the consumer tax increase during a severe downturn. With a healthy economy in 2016, by a narrow margin, Sacramento County voters rejected STA's one-half cent sales tax hike.

Following the STA meeting, Suen issued a statement saying the so-called Measure A sales tax hike that will cost Sacramento County consumers over $8 billion should be pursued regardless of immediate economic conditions. Suen said imposing additional taxes on consumers would benefit them notwithstanding the current economic conditions even though it will be several years before the money for projects is accumulated and disbursed.

Suen's statement, which was released on Thursday, March 19 reads:

“Yesterday, the Sacramento Transportation Authority tentatively adopted a multi-billion dollar transportation investment plan and preserved an option that could be presented to the voters for approval in November. A number of people have criticized Authority members for taking this action in the midst of the social and economic disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is mindful of the public health threat, the economic hardship and certainly the personal tragedy accompanying the spread of the coronavirus. However, there is no doubt that we will survive this crisis and we will emerge even stronger than before. 

“Until we defeat this outbreak that has all but halted ordinary life in our communities, we still have an obligation as elected officials to continue the important functions of government, and that includes taking the steps necessary to plan for our future. If we are successful over the next several months in gaining control of this disease, then our decision could result in a public works program ready for implementation that will provide tens of millions of dollars in economic stimulus. Offering good jobs and improved mobility to those who have borne the impacts of this affliction would be a positive outcome of our early engagement and would help speed our County’s recovery.  If circumstances do not change in the months to come, we can forego a funding option. While we hope this will not be the case, we lose nothing by attempting to be better prepared and we will continue our joint efforts to overcome this unprecedented challenge to our health and well-being."

Over the next several weeks, the STA will take the expenditure plan for the sales tax hike proposal to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and city council's in Citrus Heights,  Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt, Isleton, Rancho Cordova, and Sacramento. Given the likelihood those government agencies will support the additional consumer tax burden for their local projects, the STA board will decide by it's July meeting if it will place Measure A on the November general election ballot.   

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2020. All right reserved.



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