STOCKTON (AP) — A sales tax measure that officials in this bankrupt California city have said is essential to their economic fortunes was ahead in voting Wednesday, though several thousand ballots remained to be counted.
Stockton's Measure A had more than 13,000 votes, or 53 percent of the ballots cast. The figure put it up by about 1,300 votes.
Though officials said they still had more than 3,300 ballots to count, supporters of the measure were claiming victory and opponents conceding defeat.
"This had to happen," Jane Butterfield, chairwoman of the group, Taxpayers for Measure A, said. "We had to get it done now and move forward."
The measure would raise the bankrupt city's sales tax by ¾ of a cent to 9 percent. It is expected to bring in $280 million over the next 10 years, 65 percent of which would go toward hiring 120 police officers and the rest to help the city out of bankruptcy.
Stockton, a city of 300,000 people about 80 miles east of San Francisco, declared bankruptcy in 2012 in the face of nearly $1 billion in debt. At the time, it was the largest city to declare bankruptcy in U.S. history.
City officials have said the tax is key to the Stockton's plan to emerge from bankruptcy, and they would have to make even deeper cuts to services without it.
Opponents argued that it was on the ballot as a general tax, allowing the city to potentially spend it as it chooses.
David Renison, president of the San Joaquin County Taxpayers Association, which argued against the measure, said the voters had spoken, and his group would now focus on monitoring and oversight.
"One thing we're not going to do is go away. We're always going to be there," he said.
Stockton's financial woes came after years of excessive borrowing. The city also overspent on salaries and benefits. Stockton was counting on long-term developer fees and increasing property tax revenue, but those funding sources were lost when the nation's housing bubble burst, leaving a slew of foreclosures.
City officials filed their bankruptcy exit plan with a court last month, but talks with creditors were put on hold until the sales tax vote, The Record reported.