Nearly two-thirds of San Mateo County voters approved a half-cent sales tax measure aimed at generating millions for a wide range of needs including seismic upgrades at Daly City-based private Seton Medical Center which heavily bankrolled its campaign.
Measure A took a strong lead from the beginning and never lost hold until it ended the evening with 64.5 percent of the vote.
The measure increases the sales tax in San Mateo County to 8.75 percent from 8.25 percent except in the city of San Mateo. The city of San Mateo’s sales tax would rise to 9 percent from the current rate of 8.5 percent due to a previous voter-approved measure. Half Moon Bay residents also approved a citywide half-cent sales tax measure. Proposition 30, which looks to be passing, would add another quarter-cent sales tax. The county tax takes effect next April and is estimated to generate $60 million annually for the next 10 years.
The general tax needed only a simple majority to pass which is why the authors could not specify a list of uses for the ballot. Instead, the "Save Our Services” campaign offered a number of possibilities including parks, public safety and keeping Seton Medical Center open for low-income residents in the north end of the county. Seton, which faces closure in 2020 without mandated seismic upgrades, provides a significant number of long-term care beds for Medi-Cal populations and losing them would have a domino effect on other health providers, including the San Mateo Medical Center which is already challenged by increasing client loads, waiting lists and an aging population. During an in-house interview with the Daily Journal, backers said they weren’t exactly sure how the partnership between the county and Seton would work.
Seton and its affiliated health system poured more than a million dollars into the campaign which also received individual donations and funds from public employee unions for a total war chest of $1.34 million, according to the last financial disclosure statements.
The opposition was primarily the Libertarian Party and Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association which said the county needed to get its own house in order and rein in employee costs before asking voters for more money.
The measure also faced opposition by the anti-jail contingent which believed the $60 million generated annually for the next 10 years would be used primarily to operate the new facility being built in Redwood City.
Julia Bott, executive director of the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, and a supporter of the measure, was surprised it passed so handily particularly when the state proposals did not appear to be. After working on two previous park-specific tax measures that failed, Bott said it’s "nice to have fun on Election Night.”
Bott credited a well-funded campaign but said the key was educating voters about the need and the county’s own efforts to be fiscally sound.
Supporters say the county has cut more than 500 positions, frozen salaries since 2008 and asked employees to pay more for health care.
The half-cent sales tax request came on the heels of a trio of tax measures on the June ballot to fund county services. Voters rejected two of the tax proposals but passed a 2.5 percent tax on car rentals, which is bringing in an estimated $8 million a year.
Not every county supervisor was on board with placing a half-cent sales tax on the ballot, though.
In July, Supervisor Dave Pine was the lone holdout, instead unsuccessfully suggesting a quarter-cent sales tax.
As the results came in last night, Pine said he wasn’t surprised by the passage but by the strong support.
"It just shows San Mateo County voters are very generous when it comes to taxing themselves to support services,” Pine said.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.