Santa Clara County is the most complex public operation in the South Bay. The Board of Supervisors manages a $3.5 billion general fund budget and is charged with keeping the most basic services afloat, ranging from public health to transportation to public safety. The biggest challenge is serving as the safety-net provider for those in need of the most basic essentials of life: shelter, health care, food, and supportive services and supplies.
The board is asking for an extension of the 1/8-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2012 to offset the shrinking amounts of revenue offered by the state and federal governments for those purposes. Measure A has a serious flaw: It makes the tax permanent, rather than sunsetting after, say, 10 years and giving voters a chance to review it again.
But it’s hard to see a decline in the need for safety-net services that the $50 million in annual sales tax revenue has helped cover. That’s why county voters should approve Measure A, which requires a majority vote, on Nov. 6.
The supervisors earlier this year considered putting a bigger sales tax measure before voters. The potential need for additional dollars was largely based on speculation of budget cuts that the next Congress and Legislature may or may not make following the November election, particularly to health care. Fortunately, supervisors didn’t go that route.
Instead, Measure A serves as a reasonable funding supplement for existing programs that will reduce the financial strain on the county hospital and law enforcement systems.
The county hospital, Valley Medical Center, had more than 800,000 visits in 2017. It’s a critical service and a wise investment. Indigent patients who receive early medical care often avoid more-serious health issues that require costly, taxpayer-funded emergency treatment. Similarly, every mental health patient or drug and alcohol abuser who has access to professional help and programs frees up police and emergency medical workers for other important work.
But it isn’t just those adults who benefit from the sales tax. In the past year, the county-funded School Link Services program provided housing, food, mental health and other health services to more than 6,000 students. Studies consistently show that students who are not in pain and eat healthy, nutritional meals are not only more likely to attend classes and stay out of trouble with police, but also get better grades and become contributing members to society.
Another county-financed program, Emergency Financial Assistance, is specifically designed to prevent families from becoming homeless. The effort protects those who may have lost a job or seen a hike in monthly rent. The one-time rental assistance payments keeps families housed and offers enough food and money for transportation and utilities to help them until they can fend for themselves.
The county put the original sales tax proposal before voters because officials saw what happened during the last major recession a decade ago. The devastating cuts severely damaged county services that only in more recent years have returned to normal.
Santa Clara County voters should take pride from living in an area that reaches out to help those who struggle to care for themselves. They make the county a better place for all. Vote yes on Measure A on Nov. 6.
By MERCURY NEWS EDITORIAL BOARD | Mercury News