Sensible Tax Criteria

CO$T’s Sensible Tax Criteria for
Supporting or Opposing Specific Taxes and Fees

At CO$T, we advocate for sensible and sustainable taxes and essential service fees – fees that are necessary, fair, transparent, affordable, approved by popular vote during a statewide election period, and expire at a reasonable time. Appropriate taxes and fees contribute to our collective wellbeing. Whenever possible, we work cooperatively – and in advance – with elected officials and community members in an effort to ensure all new/renewed taxes/fees meet a sensible and sustainable standard.

Using our Sensible Tax Criteria as a guide for careful evaluation, CO$T either supports or opposes locally significant tax and fee proposals. In some instances we will take a neutral stance when the pros and cons are balanced.
CO$T evaluates proposed taxes and fees on the following criteria and encourages voters and elected officials to do the same:

Necessary. Additional taxes/fees should enable important projects and essential services, preferably improving them – e.g., adding new teachers to lower class sizes.

Affordable. In order for people (homeowners and renters) and businesses to afford to remain in Marin, taxes/fees shouldn’t escalate faster than income levels. A specific annual percentage increase of any escalator should be clearly stated in the summary language appearing on the ballot.

Alternatives Exhausted. Local governments should utilize cost efficiencies, as well as existing regional, state, and federal tax revenue before seeking additional local taxes and fees to cover services that appear to need new funding sources. In addition, districts and public agencies should maximize grant opportunities as well as federal, state, and regional funding opportunities.

Equitable. New and renewed taxes and fees should be structured to spread the burden as ratably as California law permits. Traditional flat parcel taxes (each property pays exactly the same amount, whether it is a studio condo or a large mall) hurt small property owners. CO$T strongly prefers progressive parcel taxes such as those levied per square foot of buildings (or, in the instance of school and park taxes, or per dwelling unit). We encourage exemptions and discounts for seniors, disabled people, and lower income tax/rate payers.

Transparent. Voters deserve the truth about the use of proposed taxes or fees. If additional funds are needed to pay retiree benefits, maintain current services, or forestall cuts, be transparent! If funds will be spent on large maintenance or construction programs, voters deserve a detailed project list and the expected total interest expense.

Accurately Represented. The 75-word ballot question and all promotional materials should state precisely what the tax will be used for, how much it will cost taxpayers, and how long it will be in effect. Words like “cost of living increase” should be clearly tied to a stated index and not be used to describe annual increases of a predetermined percentage (e.g., 5%).

Reasonable Sunset. Every tax should have a sunset date and a date that is tied specifically to the projects it intends to fund. CO$T opposes “forever” taxes: ones that don’t have a sunset date and/or ambiguously state that the tax “will be in effect until repealed by voters,” which is a near impossibility. We believe that 8-10 years is a reasonable maximum term for most sales tax and parcel tax proposals; voters then have the opportunity to renew, cancel, or amend these tax proposals. For example, new bond measures that typically fund longer-term construction should not exceed 25-30 years to avoid unfairly passing these costs onto the next generation.

Democratic vote & consistent with Propositions 13 and 218. Most taxes require approval by 2/3 of votes cast; exceptions include local general fund taxes (simple majority) and school bonds (55%). CO$T is alarmed by ACA-1 on the November 2024 ballot which would erode those protections to simple majority (for parcel and sales taxes) or 55% (for bonds) if a portion of the funds go to affordable housing or infrastructure. We also oppose local government workarounds of the 2/3 vote requirement such as general fund tax measures (which may fund anything, including pension obligations) that misleadingly highlight popular uses such as road maintenance. CO$T opposes the use of “citizen” tax initiatives to lower the approval percentage to enact a tax. CO$T opposes the use of a legislative supermajority to end-run the public’s right to a direct vote on new taxes.

Don’t choose the voters. Except in rare instances of extreme urgency, CO$T will automatically oppose any tax presented to voters at a time other than a statewide election.

Reach out to us! CO$T urges jurisdictions, agencies, elected officials and community members to proactively seek feedback as they shape an upcoming tax or fee.

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