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Sales tax initiative has half the needed signatures

Sales tax initiative has half the needed signatures

The citizens’ effort to qualify a one cent sales tax initiative for the November ballot in Escondido has garnered more than half of the signatures that it needs.

The coalition of business leaders, civic leaders and city unions submitted the initiative on January 9 and received a title and summary from the City Attorney on January 17; 7,748 signatures are required to qualify the initiative for the November 2024 ballot.

According to he Escondido Community Investment Initiative, the group has collected a little more than 4,000 signatures. Ryan Gardiner, who is the consultant for the group, confirmed, “Yes, we have about half of the signatures.”

Deanna Smith, one of the three sponsors whose name appears on the initiative submitted to the city, told The Times-Advocate: “In confirming we have just a little more than fifty percent of the signatures we need to get the citizens’ initiative on the ballot,  I believe now is the time to combine our strengths and focus on collecting the remaining signatures needed.  It is estimated this one percent will bring upwards of $25 million every year to the citizens of Escondido.  Quality of life, safety and the fundamental needs of our community will be the top priorities for these funds.”

What the candidates say

Although it is early in the city’s election season, so far all announced candidates for city council have directly on indirectly endorsed the measure. Even Mayor Dane White, who ran against the last such sales tax measure two years ago, has implicitly indicated that passing such a measure would help him pay for the city-funded and operated homeless shelter he is pushing for.

In the council’s District 3 election, Christine Spencer has given a very enthusiastic thumbs up to the initiative. “I support the sales tax measure with ALL CAPITAL letters. I’m not a fan of raising taxes but we pay the lowest sales tax of any community in the County, except Oceanside.” She added, “I’ve spoken to small businesses and the don’t think it’s an issue. People won’t take notice of it and it will help the city so much.”

Incumbent councilmember Christian Garcia  was a bit more circumspect about the issue. He told The Times-Advocate: “Our city manager and attorney have made it clear we cannot and should not jeopardize the initiative, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anything like that.

“That being said, I think I can give a more direct answer: It’s public record that I supported Prop E in 2022, and that I would support a similar measure in the future. And though the council must remain neutral, I support our citizens right to campaign on this. Furthermore, I think we recognize that all revenue options should be considered.”

In the 4th District, Stef Holden has said repeatedly that he favors a sales tax increase. At one public venue he declared: “I keep hearing there are other ways to raise funds but no one tells me what those other ways are,” he said.  “I support the new Measure E.  Escondido for better or worse did not pay the full amount necessary to cover the costs of the Employee Pension Fund over almost a 20-year period.  In fairness, to pass leadership this shortage of payment was allowed by the state.  When the state finally demanded full payment, it immediately caused a structural deficit. The consequence of which is that many of the quality-of-life programs were on the chopping block.  The past council used one-time money to maintain the city services while at the same time attempted to cover the impact of paying all of these owed monies by putting a tax measure before the voters.  On the first attempt it was struck down by a lone council member. The second time it was defeated by the electorate by a false narrative of what the money was for.  Currently, 4 members of the current council remain against allowing the electorate to decide if this tax should be considered again.  The real issue is that the current council is still using one-time monies to maintain the current standard of quality-of-life services.  This decision is draining all of our city’s reserves. The council on the one hand acknowledges we need these quality-of-life programs but at the same time it refuses to cut any service to live within its financial means.  This is unsustainable, irresponsible and a disservice to the residents of Escondido. The only responsible action is to allow the voters to decide and then act on that decision rather than burying your head in the sand.”

Although on January 20, District 4 candidate Judy Fitzgerald told an audience at The Escondido Republican Club (TERC) that she opposed the sales tax imitative, saying, “There is no more regressive tax than sales tax.,” she has since that time reconsidered, telling the Rotary Club recently, “After looking into other potential solutions, it is my opinion there are no other viable options that would bring a long-term solution to improve the state of our city.”

The Times-Advocate asked Fitzgerald to clarify her position. She provided us with this statement:  “I didn’t feel comfortable supporting it at the time as a tax increase is not something I take lightly.  I needed to do my due diligence and research it further: looking at it and what other long term potential options there were, learning more on how other cities that have implemented a tax increase have benefitted, and getting more details on exactly what it would be funding – what it would be specifically designated for and the controls.”

Fitzgerald added, “Due to my findings I now support it. The cities that have implemented it are thriving.  If the people of Escondido vote to pass the Citizen’s Initiative, and if and when I am elected, I would make sure it funds only the areas it is intended for.”

Where to Sign

The best place to sign the petition is at the Escondido Farmer’s Market every Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. till close. “We have volunteers there every week with petitions,” said Gardiner.

If anyone would like to volunteer, they can sign up at:  www.EscondidoCitizens.org

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