Written by Michael Palomba
Escondido City Councilman Mike Morasco was the sole councilmember who stood up for hard working Escondido taxpayers last week. The Democratic proposal would have raised the city’s sales tax by one percent to 8.75% — tying it for the highest in the county with a handful of other cities — draining another $25 million from hard working taxpayers.
As usual, the proponents of the tax increase spoke through both sides of their mouth. “We have to close the budget deficit” — the bulk of which is to cover pension liabilities — but also the new money would pay for lots of new amenities.
It required four votes, with Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara and Councilmembers Olga Diaz and Consuelo Martinez voting in favor, while Morasco’s opposing vote stopped the tax measure in its tracks.
Mayor McNamara urged the Council to vote yes on the measure, essentially saying that there’s no choice. “There’s a reality staring us in the face. If we don’t bring in additional revenue, we’ll be in a downward spiral,” said McNamara. “I think it will be a failure on our part if we don’t pass this tonight. We need to trust (voters) to make this decision.”
Morasco rejected that sentiment, arguing that in the midst of the worst economic crisis we’ve seen in decades, a proposed tax increase is not the correct or prudent response. He also brought up that a large portion of the money that would be raised from the sales tax increase would go towards the city’s pension liability, something that Councilwoman Olga Diaz adamantly refused to add to the text of the proposal.
On the contrary, Concilwoman Olga Diaz was adamant that the words “gang and crime prevention” be removed from the proposed priorities because apparently those words are a “dog whistle,” in her words. She further didn’t think that “public safety” should be part of the title, but just “essential services.” This contrary to polling which consistently shows taxpayers demand law and order in their cities.
Additionally, three seats on the Escondido City Council are up for election in November, and the city manager is on the verge of retirement.
Morasco further made the point that “why not wait until after the November election to start making these decisions that a new council may have a completely different perspective on?”
It was further revealed that, unknown to most of the councilmembers, there had apparently already been a committee seated to pass the tax increase and they were waiting to get to work. Not a good sign. An opaque oversight committee was also proposed. On top of being a tax increase, the whole proposal was half-baked and only Councilman Morasco had the courage to say “No.”
Several Escondido residents submitted written comments to the City Council, with the vast majority opposing the proposed tax increase.
“The pandemic has already economically devastated Escondido and we already pay amongst the highest taxes in the state and in the country,” wrote Amy Peltekian. “You are driving the values of our homes down and decreasing our employment opportunities.”
“This proposed perpetual tax increase is wrong for our families, wrong for our businesses, and wrong for Escondido!” added Erin Lump.
The cost of living in California is already exorbitantly high, ranking as one of the most expensive states in the country to live in. One “small increase” after another in taxes is exactly how it has become this way. Every few years, state and local governments ask for “a little more” and it has really gotten out of control.
City Councilman Mike Morasco was the only adult in the room that evening and clearly made the right call. The Democrat councilmembers acted as if the tax increase would be a done deal — were it just put on the ballot, even though Republican Party of San Diego County Chairman Tony Krvaric reminded the councilmembers that over 23,000 Escondido voters are registered Republicans and that the Party vowed a vigorous campaign to defeat it, concluding his remarks with “should this make it onto the ballot we vow to stand up for hard working Escondido taxpayers by defeating it.”
There’s no doubt that cities are under a lot of pressure and the State of California is short changing cities, but the answer is not another tax increase. How many times have we heard the same story? An encouraging sign is that in the last election, most tax increases and bond measures failed locally, so perhaps voters have had enough. Electing different state representatives will go a long way to righting California’s finances.
Courage in politics is hard to come by. Thankfully, Councilman Mike Morasco has his priorities in the right place, and hopefully new members elected to the Escondido City Council will share his thinking. Escondido residents deserve no less.