<b>TOTAL TURNAROUND:</b>  All the supervisors agreed Tuesday to hold off on putting an oil-extraction tax on the June ballot. Janet Wolf (center), Salud Carbajal, and Doreen Farr had previously supported the tax but changed their minds this week, siding with Peter Adam (left) and Steve Lavagnino (right).

Paul Wellman

TOTAL TURNAROUND: All the supervisors agreed Tuesday to hold off on putting an oil-extraction tax on the June ballot. Janet Wolf (center), Salud Carbajal, and Doreen Farr had previously supported the tax but changed their minds this week, siding with Peter Adam (left) and Steve Lavagnino (right).

Oil Tax Dries Up

Supes Vote to Shelve Divisive Proposal, Say They Need More Time, Input

Thursday, January 23, 2014
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If a special Board of Supervisors hearing in December was any indication, it seemed likely that county voters would be asked to approve an oil-extraction tax on their June ballots. But where that meeting went one way, Tuesday’s went the other. In a surprise move ​— ​as evidenced by the reactions of many oil-industry representatives who showed up to oppose the suggested tax ​— ​Supervisors Salud Carbajal, Janet Wolf, and Doreen Farr, who all voted to put the ballot measure’s wheels in motion in December, reversed course and sided with colleagues Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino to shelve the tax.

“I think the issue before us is a very important issue,” said Carbajal, citing a recent Grand Jury report that advocated placing such a tax on the ballot. “I think we would be wise to give consideration to it in the future at some point; but I think for the time being, I have given some reconsideration to moving forward.”

The proposed tax ​— ​which, if approved by voters, would have imposed a $1-per-barrel fee on certain on- and offshore oil producers operating within unincorporated regions of the county and within three miles of shore ​— ​would have generated around $3 million a year. As decided by Carbajal, Wolf, and Farr in December, that revenue was to be divided among county libraries, parks, and fire operations.

But being poor in key support, rich in opposition, and crunched for time, the measure quickly found itself fighting against the tide. A so-called special tax, the measure only required a 3-2 vote from the board to make it to the ballot ​— ​a vote that split on North-South county lines in December ​— ​but required 66 percent approval from voters. From the start, oil-industry officials vowed to fight the tax, and environmental groups expressed serious skepticism. Linda Krop of the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), for example, worried that the prospect of extra revenue would motivate county planning agencies to approve new oil projects. Krop said this week that the EDC was fine with the tax being put to the side.

Adam and Lavagnino had been against the tax from the start and expressed mild surprise about their coworkers’ change of heart Tuesday. After a tax-opposed public speaker quoted President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address ​— ​“with malice for none, with charity for all” ​— ​to illustrate his point, Adam paraphrased some lines from Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham to voice his satisfaction with the tax’s shelving: “Not in a house, not with a mouse; not in a box, not with a fox.” Referencing one of the would-be tax’s beneficiaries, Lavagnino quipped, “Maybe we should have money for libraries.”

Farr said after the meeting that she had been “prepared to go forward” with putting the initiative on the ballot, but explained the support wasn’t there and the timing wasn’t right. “I always hate to miss opportunities to try to increase revenue,” she said, citing the needs of the libraries, parks, and fire department. “The need is great in all these areas.”

Carbajal and Wolf both said that more community input was needed, with Wolf noting after the meeting that a workshop on the tax could be helpful. Wolf said that there were “too many unanswered questions” to pull the trigger, including the issues of which county agency would oversee appeals and the legality of the offshore-oil provision. “I think we should look at this in the future. It needs further discussion,” she said.

Goleta City Councilmember Roger Aceves, who is challenging Wolf in June for her 2nd District seat, said that he was “surprised” by Tuesday’s vote but “really happy that they are not spending any more taxpayer dollars on a process without getting public input,” suggesting that polling be done, as proposed by Wolf the last time an oil-extraction tax came before the board, and went nowhere, in 2012. “Any issue where you’re talking about charging a tax, you need to have it fully vetted with the public,” Aceves said. (The City of Goleta last week received some flak for its public-opinion poll on the city’s tax-sharing deal with the county, a poll that also asked people to rate Wolf.)

If the tax had moved forward and been approved by voters, it would have been the first countywide tax in California. A statewide tax doesn’t exist ​— ​Proposition 87 was defeated in 2006 ​— ​but a new extraction tax was recently proposed for the November ballot. County staff said that the oil tax could potentially be held for the November election ​— ​which Farr expressed some interest in ​— ​but that a decision would have to be made by July.

While the oil tax sank on Tuesday, the proposal to increase the county’s hotel bed tax floated back to the surface. Currently, the bed tax charged in unincorporated regions is 10 percent, despite every city in the county imposing a 12 percent tax. Unofficial talks of possibly putting that issue on the November ballot earned support from public commenters, Aceves, and the supervisors.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

This became politically inexpedient at this time for certain BOS candidates in this fall election. Score one for Andy Caldwell and the NewsPress.

Funneling more money into county finances so the BOS can continue their same profligate is unacceptable.

The BOS will only sell this oil tax when it is guaranteed the proceeds will not merely line county employee union member pockets, but be restricted to only cover necessary county infrastructure repair, maintenance and improvements.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 23, 2014 at 8:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How to sell increased taxes in this county:

1. County collective personnel costs, no matter how labeled, shall not exceed 70% of county revenues.

2. County employee contracts shall include a flexible rider that is linked to county revenues for that year, with employees acknowledging their income can go up or down dependent solely upon county revenues ,while maintaining the 70% of county revenues ceiling for personnel costs.

3. County shall phase out all vested defined-benefit pension plans and replace with defined contribution plans, or qualify for social security in lieu.

4. Provide no life-time medical insurance benefits for any employee.

5. Insure county compensation remains objectively competitive to retain quality personnel.

6. All oil tax revenues shall be dedicated to capital infrastructure projects only; with any remaining oil tax revenues dedicated to a capital infrastructure reserve account.

7. No post-retirement employment double-dipping; taking both county retirement pensions and current county compensation.

8. Citizens Oversight Board monitors the capital reserve account.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 23, 2014 at 11:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Great Oz has spoken.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 23, 2014 at 12:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Typical of politicians to recite nursery rhymes and miss the big picture of the whole story encompassing said rhymes. Rep' ing those salaries paid by taxes.

spacey (anonymous profile)
January 24, 2014 at 1:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I see Poo is at it again with his gov't employee rants. He, and his low functioning friends, just don't understand his elitist wish list will NEVER be granted.

I especially like this one: "5. Insure county compensation remains objectively competitive to retain quality personnel."

Just how do you keep a competitive pay and benefits package to bring in new employees and retain your experience levels, especially in public safety, when you gut the benefits package? A minimum of 80% of your sheriff and fire personnel would leave in the first two years to agencies with common packages. Only a portion would be hired to fill the void, and they would leave once gaining some experience.

Come on Lanny. This line is SO OLD and unattainable only the one track low functioning teanderthals could support it.

Validated (anonymous profile)
January 24, 2014 at 2:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There are easily 40 highly qualified applicants for every job the county can offer, which is how you bring in the best and keep on budget at the same time. Morale would be raised instantly having only happy workers who actually wanted these jobs.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 24, 2014 at 3:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You bring the best people in by offering a reasonably competitive salary; having 40 applicants only means you have 40 candidates to choose from.And they may be qualified, but are they the best? What kind of offer are you willing to make the 40 applicant? Why should they accept it if it's subsrandard to their industry?
And then years down the road you'll want to change the initial contract and pay them less?
Won't be taking your business advice, EVER.
Happy workers like jobs that pay, and not being attacked for demanding a contract be kept; nor maligned because they're easy fodder for political hacks commenting on news sites.
You can't attack public employee paychecks then complain about "shoddy public services".

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 24, 2014 at 6:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You never know if an employee is the best, until they actually spend time on the job. But in government service, union-driven job protection regulations virtually prevent their termination and one is forever stuck with mediocrity and/or incompetence. Fresh air is badly needed to sweep through all levels of public employment today, because it has become moribund and stagnant serving only itself.

Government employment today is fraught with unsupportable peril for those it is intended to serve, supports out of control compensation schemes and job preferences with taxpayers unrelentingly on the hook forever under the current union-driven employment practices.

America took the wrong turn unionizing government workers which drove a wedge between themselves and their own government ,creating an unelected massive fourth branch of government accountable only unto itself.

Google "fourth branch of government" and you learn it is far more than just me sending out the alarms.

When one chooses to work for the taxpayers at any level of government employment, they have chosen to be public servants and are always subject always to the vagaries of tax dollar funded compensation. Period.

It is a decision they make up front and relinquish their rights to sit on their union-padded duffs and whine about this later. Good employees are key to good government service and that is the beginning and end of the argument.

And the mutual obligations to each other work both ways: worker to the public an the public to the worker. Unions have thrown that critical balance completely out of whack.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 25, 2014 at 9:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

But to get back to the original point, why does the BoS not want the voters to decide the oil tax issue?

Oh, and foo, don't let the government union labor extortionists get you down. There are actually places in this country that understand the problem and are changing accordingly, like Wisconsin (which, BTW was the birthplace of the US Socialist movement - ironic, huh?).

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 9:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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