Published : Tuesday, November 6, 2018 | 6:16 AM
What many argue are the most important issues for Pasadenans in Tuesday’s midterm election can be found at the very bottom of the lengthy ballot.
Beneath the gubernatorial candidates, the state propositions and a host of other ballot questions sit Measure I and Measure J.
Measure I would raise the city’s sales tax by three-quarters of a cent per dollar to maintain city services.
As presented to the voters, the ballot question is titled “Pasadena Infrastructure/ Community Essential Services Protection Measure” and reads:
Shall an ordinance be adopted to maintain essential city of Pasadena services such as fire, police, paramedics, emergency service/ response times; keep fire stations open; improve neighborhood and school safety; repair streets/sidewalks; address homelessness; maintain after-school programs/ senior services, and other general fund services, by establishing a 3/4¢ sales tax providing approximately $21,000,000 annually until ended by voters; requiring audits and all funds locally controlled?
Its companion measure, J, asks whether to use a third of the new revenue to fund the Pasadena Unified School District, which is under mandate to find millions of dollars in funds through cuts or new revenue sources under threat of a county takeover. But the measure is advisory only, and a City Council vote would still be required before the PUSD receives the funds.
The text of Measure J on the ballot reads:
If Pasadena voters approve a local sales tax measure, should the City use 2/3rds of the measure’s annual revenue to maintain essential City of Pasadena services such as fire, police, paramedics, emergency service/response times; keep fire stations open; improve neighborhood and school safety; repair streets/sidewalks; address homelessness; maintain after-school programs/senior services; with the remaining 1/3rd of the measure’s revenue going to support Pasadena public schools?
The measures were placed on the ballot by vote of the City Council, and proponents include Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, who has advocated strongly in support of the legislation.
They argue the sales tax is vital to maintain Pasadena’s current level of services and quality of life.
Without the increase in revenue, even critical services like the police and fire departments will suffer, supporters of the measures have said.
Furthermore, proponents have argued, if the city does not raise the sales tax, another taxing entity — like the county — eventually will. In that scenario, the majority of the revenue generated within Pasadena would end up being spent elsewhere.
Pasadena’s current total sales tax rate is 9.5 percent. By state law, total local sales tax rates must not exceed 10.25 percent. It’s only a matter of time before the county, or another authority, collects that remaining .75 percent, supporters have said.
A significant portion of the city’s steadily rising expenses are due to growing pension liabilities, opponents point out. But supporters of the tax increase counter that the city is legally required to pay those obligations, so budget cuts would have to come from elsewhere.
Opponents of Measure I and Measure J include the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber and a number of local business leaders argue that the City should control spending to balance its budget rather than raise the sales tax.
Pasadena’s tax rate is already among the highest in the region, and increasing it higher would harm local businesses, which those against the increase say would be placed at a disadvantage compared with businesses in other nearby cities.
While the current maximum sales tax rate is 10.25 percent, there’s nothing preventing state officials from raising it higher in the future and thereby eliminating the need for rushing into the city tax now, opponents argue.
And increasing the sales tax would disproportionately affect the poor, Measure I opponents have said.
And the revenue will go to the general city’s general fund, with no guarantees on how it will ultimately be spent, they add.
Besides Measures I and J, also up for grabs on Tuesday on Pasadena’s ballot are two congressional seats representing the Pasadena area, as well as a seat in the state legislature. All three are being defended by incumbents.
Democrat Bryan Witt, an AMTRAK railroad operations supervisor, is challenging Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, in the 27th Congressional District.
Republican food industry businessman Johnny Nalbandian is challenging Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, to represent the 28th District, which includes a portion of west Pasadena bordering Eagle Rock.
In the state legislature, Engineer Alan Reynolds, registered without party affiliation, is challenging Rep. Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, in the 41st District.