These are unprecedented times for our county, particularly for the agriculture industry that drives our local economy. We are in an economic crisis that is unparalleled. Neither the Great Depression nor the Great Recession nor any other slump over the past two centuries have ever caused such a negative jolt to our economy. Farmers, ranchers, our business suppliers and community supporters need help, especially financially. You do not have to be an economist to see the train wreck coming, yet for some unfathomable reason, local elected officials believe it will serve the public good to increase the tax burden on Sonoma County’s residents.
There are 12 district, city, township our countywide measures on the November ballot that either adds a new tax or extends a current tax, with many of these measures resulting in “forever” taxes that have no sunset dates. The type of tax being imposed varies – there are sales tax, business tax, parcel tax, utility tax – as if the variety pack somehow changes the fact that government is reaching deeper into the shallow pockets of our local families. Many of the causes sound worthy, but regardless, enough is enough. “No, Not Now” has become the mantra for me and several other like-minded folks and we have organized to oppose these tax measures.
In partnership with the North Bay Leadership Council and the North Coast Builders Exchange, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau has led an effort to create the 2020 Tax Moratorium Coalition to urge voters to oppose all taxes on the ballot. We are excited that we see great support in the community and our coalition is growing. When we say, “No, Not Now!” we hear strong agreement that our community needs continued relief for those most impacted by COVID-19, not additional financial burdens brought on by tax measures that either establish or extend taxes.
Our opposition is not targeted at individual ballot measures – we are opposing ALL of them. We believe that 2020 is the wrong time to ask the voters for more money. Any additional taxes or extension of taxes should be considered when our economy is stronger, and we have more certainty about the path forward. We are standing strong on our position to protect farmers, ranchers, businesses, senior citizens, furloughed workers, students, and families who are already struggling to meet their basic needs.
Let’s look at what we are facing. In a recent report, it is estimated “that 42% of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss,” (Jose Maria Barrero, Nick Bloom and Steven Davis from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago). And in Sonoma County that could be higher due to our vulnerable industries like hospitality, retail, personal services, and in some cases, agriculture.
Small businesses are shuttered, and economists predict almost half of those businesses will not reopen. About 87% of Sonoma County’s approximately 19,800 businesses are small, family-owned employers. The overwhelming majority of the 266,000-person workforce in Sonoma County has a job at a small business. How many of our businesses are gone or at risk of folding? How many more jobs will be lost? We don’t know and that should make the elected officials think twice about levying taxes now that may tip the scales for more businesses and nonprofits to close forever.
Taking these measures off the November ballot would have allowed for much needed time to assess the situation when there is more certainty and less confusion from the uncharted waters our community is in today. Postponing all tax measures this year could have saved local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the cost of including measures on the ballot. (For one countywide ballot item, I heard it costs well over $250,000). This money could have been better spent addressing the key priorities of government. We pleaded with officials to keep these measures off the ballot, but our request fell to deaf ears.
The 2020 Tax Moratorium Coalition invites you to join us in taking a stand against all tax measures for this November election cycle. If you are interested in joining the coalition, please visit our website:
Thank you to Cynthia Murray with the North Bay Leadership Council for allowing me to share some of her thoughts and statistics in this editorial.