Steinberg Senate bill may have saved city from financial catastrophe
A bill authored by Mayor Darrell Steinberg when he was in the state Senate may have just saved Sacramento from budget catastrophe.
SB 1253 changed the law governing ballot initiatives. Previously, once the signatures for an initiative were submitted, there was no going back. It would be on the ballot even if proponents decided they no longer wanted to pursue it. Mayor Steinberg's 2014 legislation allows initiative proponents to withdraw a ballot measure as long as it's not less than 132 days before the election.
This year, SB 1253 had big consequences for Sacramento. Soda companies, unhappy with the growing number of cities passing local taxes on sugary drinks, were backing an initiative on the November ballot that would have changed the threshold required for approval of general sales taxes in cities and counties to two-thirds from a simple majority.
If the ballot measure had passed, it could have been disastrous for Sacramento. Our city depends on the Measure U sales tax for about $50 million in revenue each year. The tax is scheduled to sunset, so the city will be going to the ballot in November for an extension. In addition, Mayor Steinberg is advocating that the city ask voters to raise the half-cent sales tax to a full cent to fund job creation, help house the homeless, build affordable housing and invest in the city's youth.
Proponents of the ballot measure agreed to withdraw it Thursday after the Legislature passed AB 1838, quickly signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, that bans new local taxes on soda and sugary drinks through 2030.
"Mayors from countless cities have called to voice their alarm and to strongly support the compromise which this bill represents," Brown wrote in his signing message. He said the two-thirds voting threshold the initiative sought to impose on local governments was "an abomination."
Mayor Steinberg emphasized that he doesn't like banning new soda taxes, but the alternative was far worse. He said SB 1253 worked the way he had intended, as an escape valve to keep draconian initiatives off the ballot and allow the Legislature to reclaim some of its power to negotiate policy.
“I’ve been in politics a long time, and sometimes you have to do what’s necessary to avoid catastrophe,” said Mayor Steinberg. The soda tax compromise, he said, "protects the ability of local governments to raise crucial revenue with a majority vote and avoids drastic cuts to public safety, fire and other services.”
On Thursday, June 28, Mayor Steinberg explained his history with the initiative process and its effect on this year's ballot during an appearance on the KQED show Political Breakdown.