Four days ahead of a critical vote, a group headed by local political heavyweights backing three ballot measures that would bring San Mateo County millions of dollars of other peoples’ money accused its opponents of being either dishonest or misinformed.
San Mateo County Forward, a group that has the blessings of the County’s Board of Supervisors, held a press conference at the Millbrae BART station on Friday morning in support of Measures T, U and X, tourist taxes that they say would bring the cash-strapped county an estimated $13 million annually.
Measure T would increase business license taxes for commercial parking and car rental businesses in unincorporated areas.
Measure U would raise taxes guest at hotels in unincorporated areas pay from 10 percent to 12 percent, and Measure X would tax all commercial parking facilities in unincorporated areas.
Most of the revenues would come from travelers using parking lots or rental car services at San Francisco International Airport.
Supervisors Don Horsley and David Pine said outside car rental companies have poured more than $300,000 into Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, a group they which they’ve accused of launching a misinformation campaign against the measures.
The Silicon Valley Taxpayers’ Association is among a handful of local groups opposing the measures. A SVTA spokesman did not immediately return messages.
The measures’ backers say the tax dollars are desperately needed, noting a preliminary budget issued earlier this week that already projects a deficit approaching $30 million has already factored in the $13 million the county hopes to realize should all three pass.
A rejection of the ballot measures would have a disastrous impact on the elderly and the poor, Pine said, noting that the county has already trimmed $70 million in spending over the last two years and axed 700 employees over the last two years.
“These revenues are critical to avoiding future cuts that will harm people in our community,” Pine said.
The measures’ backers say their opponents will spend nearly a half million dollars before the campaign is over. The measures backers are on a shoestring budget of $60,000.
And they’re leveling some incendiary attacks against their opponents.
A press release advancing Friday’s event read: “San Mateo County Forward to Counter Lies by Washington D.C. Lobbyists.”
Horsley dialed down the rhetoric a bit saying he didn’t believe the organized local opponents were liars too even though they’re reading from the same talking points as their Washington allies.
“It may be that a local group simply doesn’t understand that this is a fairly narrow, crafted targeted tax that doesn’t affect their pocketbooks,” Horsley said.
The supervisors took issue with several TSE assertions they described as particularly egregious.
Horsley challenged the notion that the tourist tax revenues wouldn’t benefit local residents.
“We’re guaranteeing the money will be spent on health care, on public safety and the services that our county really needs,” Horsley said.
Pine took aim at the assertion that the tourist taxes will chase travelers to other parts of the Bay Area, damaging the local economy.
“Our opponents believe that somehow these very modest taxes will basically cause travelers to stop coming to the Bay Area, and that’s an absurd notion,” he said. “We’re talking about a cup of coffee here.”
Horsley pounced on a radio ad describing Measure T as a “car tax.”
“They are being dramatically disingenuous by saying it’s a car tax,” he said.
“This is not a car tax, this is a small fee on rental vehicles that will mostly be paid by tourists, and it’s a fee that’s fairly consistent with airports throughout the (nation).”
San Mateo County Democratic Party Chair David Burruto, an SMCF organizer acknowledged that the funding disparity presents inherent challenges.
Similar measures in 2010 lost by one percent.
Burruto projects low turnout, noting the county had received about 40,000 mail-in ballots as of a week ago. He expects somewhere between 80,000 to100,000 ballots will be cast by Tuesday.
Asked to assess the chances of the measures’ passage, Pine expressed hope but didn’t sound overly optimistic.
“I think we can win, but we need people to vote in these last five days,” he said. “We need people in the county to understand that these taxes are modest and are very important to fund these critical services that we all depend on.”