David Tenney is good at numbers.
You have to be to successfully navigate the waters in California where Sacramento has planted a school of regulatory and tax piranhas that can gnaw a small business to the bone without leaving a trace.
When it comes to nuances such as taxes as well as payroll and business costs, the Manteca Trailer and Motorhome owner is good at numbers. Tenney has to be or else he wouldn’t be in business for too long.
This brings us to how Tenney values a penny. The city — and most of us including myself — looks at it as a penny, nothing less and nothing more. In mulling over Measure Z — the proposed one cent sales tax for the City of Manteca on the Nov. 3 ballot it is being framed as “just a penny” than can leverage $12 million in additional annual city spending. Both observations are correct.
Tenney, though, goes one step further and looks at one additional cent per dollar of taxable items in relation to the current sales tax of 8.25 percent of which 1 cent goes to the city’s general fund, a half cent to Measure M that restricts money raises to pay for additional Manteca police and firefighters, a half cent to the countywide transportation tax know as Measure K, and the rest is siphoned off by the State of California.
Tenney correctly points out in a web-based anti-Measure Z ad on Yahoo News that the one cent actually reflects a 12 percent hike in overall the sales tax you pay.
Pennies may strike most of us as worthless but if you spend just over $20 a day on average on taxable items, that’s $78 a year on the $716 in sales tax you are already paying.
Now that he’s got your attention let’s deflect the predictable attacks on Tenney.
If someone that lives anywhere but inside of Manteca’s city limits buys a $100,000 RV from Tenney they would not be subject to an additional $1,000 in sales tax Measure Z would place on such a transaction. That is because under California law the buyer is chained to the sales tax that is levied within the jurisdiction where they essentially reside.
Tenney’s interest in Measure Z is not tied to his business to any significant degree as the percentage of his customers for RV vehicles that reside in Manteca is likely in the low single digits as a percentage of his overall sales.
Tenney has effectively dissected the Measure Z pitch by zeroing in on that unanimous council vote to place it on the ballot where every member conditioned their vote by stating essentially they weren’t supporting the tax hike per se but wanted to give voters the chance to say yes or no.
He then zeroes in on the real issue with three questions:
*“Would you give your child, whom you love and trust, $500 to spend without any explanation of where the money is going?”
* “Would you allow (your) 401k to be invested in things you have no control over?”
*“Are you going to give the City of Manteca permission to do whatever they want with $12 million?”
Those three questions further drive home the point Charlie Halford, a retired Manteca Police Chief in the running for one of the two council seats up for grabs, made when he stated, “as written with no spending plan, no sunset clause, and no restrictions on what it can be spent on, I cannot support this sales tax increase while many are still struggling . . . (the proponents) have not justified the need.”
Inside of making the hard decision and holding themselves up to accountability the city opted not to present a restricted use plan for the $12 million a year they project the new tax will generate as they did with the Measure M public safety half cent sales tax.
When a previous council tied the city’s hands with a specific spending plan for police and fire services in 2006 they were rewarded with a 70 percent approval rate from the voters, easily surpassing the two-third threshold needed for passage.
Two years prior in 2004 when the city just asked for a sales tax increase with no restrictions they got only 17 percent support even though the bar for passage was considerably lower at a simple majority.
Tenney is likely to be a hard sell for any tax increase. But the point he is clearly making in his advertisement is that the city wants voters to blindly write them a blank check in the hope they will spend it on things that matter the most to residents. They did not offer a choice of “yes” or “no” to specific spending goals but instead said trust us and rely on the broadest possible assurances for accountability that comes nowhere close to the restrictions placed on the $6 million taxpayers send their way every year in the form of the half cent Measure M public safety tax.
Tenney provides links on the bottom of his ad to the Manteca City Council resolution authorizing Measure Z, the impartial city attorney’s analysis, the California Department of Tax & Finance site for existing tax rates in all cities in the state, and the ballot argument for Measure Z.
The argument Tenney lays out is of a sales tax proposed in a leadership vacuum where elected officials made no solid case by using specifics tied into a restricted spending plan as was done with Measure M or a more fluid but still fairly targeted spending plan that Lathrop did with their sales tax measure.
There are three questions Tenney did not ask that you need to ask yourself.
*Would the City of Manteca have all of the 17 additional police officers and 15 additional firefighters in place today if the $6 million that’s raised annually through the half cent Measure M sales tax had not been restricted to being spent exclusively on frontline public safety personnel?
*Would you be happy having 17 less police officers and 15 less firefighters (the equivalent of closing an entire fire station) given that is what would have happened if Mantecans did not tax themselves in 2006 with a tax that many who opposed Measure Z today opposed 14 years ago?
*Would you be willing to risk a repeat in cutting back services across the board in uncertain economic times by not supporting Measure R as the city did in 2010 due to the Great Recession that included the laying off 12 police officers by?
It all comes down to what you believe the value of an additional penny on every taxable transaction is worth to you. By itself, that penny wouldn’t even buy you a gum ball. But combined with 1.2 billion other pennies it can help secure current service levels against looming economic storm clouds and potentially upgrade amenities that people individually cannot secure.
It’s a value judgment.