Retorts: Maybe it’s time to pay to play

THE CONCEPT of a 1-cent sales tax for Garden Grove was studied in a survey conducted in October.

Sometimes what you don’t see is more intriguing than what you do.

On Wednesday, at the “State of the City” address by Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones, much was made of the city’s plans and needs. In a quite-impressive combination of speechmaking and video accompaniment, Jones made the case for a brilliant future for “The City of Youth and Ambition,” but also added a cautionary element about a structural deficit caused in part by the city’s pension obligations.

As a way of coping with the issue of red-and-black ink, city departments will be asked to trim budgets by 5 percent. The necessity of local taxes going to local uses was emphasized.

Fine. But one gets the sense that something was missing, and perhaps it was.

To me, the elephant (and donkey) in the room was the idea of a 1 cent sales tax. In a poll of residents late last year, the notion was floated in a public opinion poll. The survey, conducted of 400 residents, showed that a majority of residents would support such a sales tax hike, said to bring in $19 million annually if enacted.

Now, the poll took a certain amount of razzing in social media. “They didn’t poll me!” was a typical Facebook remark. Well, yes … a poll isn’t the same as an election. If done properly, a poll uses a carefully-selected sample to represent the whole.

As we saw in the 2016 presidential election, that’s not always a perfect approach, but it’s usually pretty accurate.

If you look at the recent past, voters even in fiscally-conservative Orange County have been willing to vote themselves into a higher tax bill for something they treasure.

Voters in Westminster last year approved a 1-cent sales tax increase and the Garden Grove Unified School District has twice won OKs from the public for bond issues for school modernization.

Asking members of the public to consider raising their own taxes can be a tricky matter for city officials and politicians in what will be an election year in 2018. For some voters, the idea of raising taxes for any reason is like putting your finger in the pickle-slicer. Never, never, never.

But I have always felt that it’s inevitable that you have to pay for what you want. There’s no free croissant. Everyone wants a raise or at least to hold on to what they have, but plenty of folks don’t want to shell out for it.

So, as I see it, those who favor a sales tax increase are sloooowwllly laying the groundwork for a penny a dollar levy on the November 2018 ballot. Considering all the options in a world with rising crime, growing homelessness, aging infrastructure and daunting pension bills, it’s probably the only way forward.

I understand the caution. But sometimes you just gotta pull the Band-Aid off. November’s not that far off, and the croissant isn’t getting any cheaper.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on alternate Wednesdays.




Categories: Opinion

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