Hours after hearing the results of an outside audit that showed the County Fire Department is critically underfunded, the Board of Supervisors found itself in political gridlock on whether to put an oil-production tax measure on the November ballot to raise money to help buoy the county’s dwindled finances. The five-member board, which swings liberal, heard how the oil tax could generate anywhere between $1.8 million and $3.3 million a year for the county, depending on what type of tax it was.
But to put a simple 50-percent-plus-1 majority vote measure on the ballot (where the money could be put toward any county needs), the board needed a four-fifths vote. Supervisors Joni Gray and Steve Lavagnino wouldn’t budge. That led to a discussion of a putting a two-thirds supermajority vote on the ballot, which would only need the approval of three supervisors, but require them to specify where the money would go (toward public safety, for example).
But with the City of Santa Barbara proposing a half-cent sales-tax measure, Carpinteria looking at a bed-tax increase, Santa Maria potentially putting a tax on the ballot, and another three competing tax-raising measures proposed at the state level (one of which is Governor Jerry Brown’s, which was endorsed by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday), the ballot would appear pretty crowded to a Santa Barbara County voter, and there were concerns the two-thirds majority was too high a threshold to meet. Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf suggested polling to see whether there would be support among the citizens — after all, the public wouldn’t be taxed, but rather oil companies — but the idea was rejected, and the potential for an oil production tax died.