Opposition builds against tax proposal

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Councilmember Jeff Jennings says he is unlikely to support the proposal to hike the sales tax.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

A half-cent sales tax hike proposal being placed on the June ballot will likely receive opposition from the business community and possibly a city councilmember. The council unanimously voted Monday to readjust some of the language designating the uses of the tax revenue. Councilmember Jeff Jennings said he did not necessarily support the tax, but rather he supported putting it on the ballot to let the people decide.

The city council approved the tax measure last month. It would raise the tax rate from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent. The proposal was required to go before the council for a second reading prior to official placement on the ballot. But the ballot language was adjusted to shorten the list of the recipients of the half-cent tax revenue to “law enforcement, parks and open space acquisition, facilities and community services.” The actual ordinance, which is several pages long and does not appear in the ballot question, defines community services as emergency and disaster services; youth, senior, educational, recreational and cultural programs and recreational facilities. Since the ballot language was adjusted, the council must approve the measure again on Feb. 28.

The tax proposal was developed by a citizens committee led by education activist Laura Rosenthal and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Madonna . Rosenthal lobbied the council to support the proposal at Monday’s meeting.

“We do need extra money in the city,” Rosenthal said. “And we do need it for our community services. We need it for the youth, for the seniors, for the people who live in the city.”

Most of the council members spoke in favor of the tax proposal. Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern said, “There may be some wealthy people in Malibu. But the city is not a wealthy city. There’s a huge distinction there. And the level of services that people want, we simply can’t afford.”

Jennings said after the meeting that he did not usually support tax hikes, and he said this one would make Malibu one of the highest taxed cities in the state. But he said he could possibly be persuaded to support the measure if somebody were to convince him that the passage of the tax was desperately needed.

Although he is unlikely to vote for the tax on Election Day in June, Jennings supported putting it on the ballot because he wanted to give an opportunity for the people to vote on it. Two-thirds of the voters would need to approve the measure for it to pass.

“I’m going to support this because It think if they [Rosenthal’s committee] can make this thing fly and get two-thirds of the people in this town to support it, they’re wasting their talents in Malibu; they ought to be running the country,” said Jennings during the meeting, triggering laughter throughout the council chambers.

Chamber of Commerce President Christine Rodgerson was less comical about the situation. She announced that 25 percent of the chamber membership had responded to a survey regarding the proposal, and more than 90 percent of those members said they were opposed to it. Rodgerson recommended the city conduct an economic impact study to determine whether a tax would be beneficial.

“We feel that they [the city] are going to spend $50,000 in June to hold an election and they don’t have the answers,” Rodgerson said in a Tuesday telephone interview. “The money would be better spent on a study plan.”

Opposition from the tax also came from Public Safety Commissioner Ryan Embree. He presented information to refute an earlier claim by Councilmember Ken Kearsley that the tax would not affect car purchases. Embree pointed out that state law requires that when one buys a car, the tax the person pays is based on where the car is registered. City Manager Katie Lichtig confirmed this to be true.

This did not persuade Kearsley. “If you’re buying a $40,000 BMW, it’ll cost you one hundred bucks, of which fifty of it is going to make a better school district, which is going to raise your property value. So it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Jennings raised another issue that he said the proponents should take into consideration when promoting the tax, because he said people would be asking the question. The council member pointed to a hypothetical situation with the tax generating $1.2 million. The city could then reduce the amount it spends on law enforcement services by $1.2 million, and then use the tax revenue as replacement money, rather than additional money. It would then use its $1.2 million in savings for things the tax money was not supposed to be used.

City Attorney Christi Hogin said the only way to combat that problem would be to lock in stone how much the city could spend on everything in its budget, which would severely restrict future city councils.