SAN JOSE -- As San Jose officials weigh a slew of possible taxes to put before voters next year, the latest polling suggests residents are more willing to pony up to support city services and restore pay to workers who took cuts to help balance budgets in recent years.
The annual polling results show the highest level of support yet for a possible city sales tax measure, even with the new state and county taxes voters approved in November.
"Majorities of voters support a wide variety of potential ballot measures to provide revenue to the city," polling consultants Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates wrote in a report that the City Council will consider at Tuesday's meeting and likely discuss at a budget study session Monday.
"However, the different vote thresholds required for each measure suggest that only a couple of these potential measures -- namely a general purpose sales tax and an increase/adjustment to the city's business tax -- currently appear viable."
Results showed the most support -- 70 percent -- for a one-quarter percent general city sales tax, the highest level since the city pollsters began asking about it in 2009. The same survey last July found 61 percent support, 11 percent of which was only "leaning" toward approval and considered unreliable. The "leaners" accounted for just 6 percent of the support in the latest survey.
"It's a statistically significant increase," said Mayor Chuck Reed, who
Support for a one-half percent general city sales tax, recommended last year by the city manager, was lower at 57 percent, but still above the majority needed for passage, the January poll showed. The survey also found 63 percent of likely San Jose voters would support a measure to raise the city's business tax and adjust it annually for inflation.
San Jose voters have approved four city tax measures since Reed took office in 2007. Reed campaigned to support measures for a 911 service tax and expanded telecommunications utility tax, and approved putting new taxes before voters on card rooms and marijuana sales, all of which easily passed.
But Reed and his council allies blocked an effort to put a sales tax measure before voters last fall, citing a host of concerns. Polling data showed uncertain support. The November ballot was crowded with other tax measures including a quarter-cent state sales tax and eighth-cent county sales tax, both of which passed. No one had organized a campaign for another San Jose tax. And city unions are fighting in court to block Reed's voter-approved pension reforms, key to his effort to curb city spending and changes he thinks voters want enacted before approving new taxes.
The council's refusal to seek tax approval last year was a sore point with city workers, who have taken 10-percent pay cuts to limit layoffs amid record, pension-driven deficits. Former police Chief Chris Moore cited it as a factor spurring his early retirement last month.
"San Jose residents know the Police Department's ability to respond to crime is at an all-time low and they are supportive of raising revenue to rebuild the department," said Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association, which has asked the city to restore the 10-percent pay cuts and grant additional 6 percent raises over the next three years.
"It's a shame that Mayor Reed blocked placing a sales tax measure before voters in November as it would have passed just like it did for the county, the state and 21 other jurisdictions throughout California, and it cost us a chief of police as well," Unland said.
The city has seen an exodus of police officers, wastewater plant operators and other key employees in the past year, and city officials have acknowledged a need to boost pay to keep those critical workers on the job.
But Reed said any tax is no easy sell to voters, though it's unclear how much organized opposition a tax measure might face.
Matt Mahood, chief executive officer of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, called it a "top priority" to "aggressively address the police staffing issues and public safety issues." But while the chamber has no formal position, he also noted that a new tax will hurt city companies already facing the burden of a higher city minimum wage taking effect next month.
"I want to work with our City Council to figure out how we solve these problems without putting it on the backs of the business community," Mahood said.
Reed asked for the polling data after taking office to gauge public sentiment about the difficult decisions city leaders confronted. At the time, soaring pension costs led the city to seek new revenue and to cut back staff, pay and benefits to reduce spending.
The city consultants conducted the latest survey Jan. 17-24. Pollsters spoke with 908 randomly selected adult San Jose residents in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. The margin of error for the survey sample as a whole is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, and higher for smaller subgroups. City officials said the survey cost $44,500.
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.
San Jose polling data on taxes show support for a variety of possible tax measures:
Mayor Chuck Reed's State-of-the-City Speech
Mayor Chuck Reed will deliver the 2013 State of the City address from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, 135 W. San Carlos St. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required to attend. For more information, call the Mayor's Office at 408-535-4800.