Let the people vote on tax

CLOCK TOWER at Westminster Civic Center. It’s time to face financial reality (OC Tribune photo).

On Wednesday night – and it’s bound to be a long night – the Westminster City Council will grapple with a most momentous decision.

The council will consider placing on the Nov. 8 general election ballot an extension of the existing Measure SS sales tax at 1 or 1.25 percent. Unlike the original levy, which expires six years after its 2016 approval, this one would stay in place until voters end it.

Councilmembers have been told, repeatedly, that unless the tax is renewed, the city treasury will plunge into red ink and the City of Westminster into eventual bankruptcy.

Even with drastic cutbacks in public safety services, parks and recreation, etc., the sunsetting of the original Measure SS could mean the sun going down in this city of 90,000.

Why is the city council waiting until the last minute to consider placing the matter before voters? The answer is simple: politics.

Four of the five council members are running for higher office this fall. Three are seeking the mayor’s spot and the fourth is a state Assembly candidate. The calculation here is that to in any way seem to support a tax – even just the idea of letting the public decide on whether to impose the tax –is a bad political move.

When the topic of taxes is raised, the simplistic cry is “Live within your means.” But a city’s finances are, in many ways, beyond its control. The economy, new state mandates and unanticipated events such as a pandemic can scramble the math of even the most prudent municipalities.

A more reasonable motto is “Don’t spend more than you need.”  

Westminster needs police officers and firefighters. It needs parks and recreation programs, strong public works and intelligent planning. All these would be in jeopardy if the council can’t summon up the courage to do the right thing and let the people decide.

This “All-American City” dates back to 1870. We shall see whether the leaders of Westminster will make an historically smart decision or an historically short-sighted and bad one.

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