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Steinberg presses sales tax sharing

By Mary Lynne Vellinga -- Bee Staff Writer

The Sacramento Bee

Nov. 29, 2001

With the state Legislature scheduled to reconvene in January, Sacramento Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg vowed Wednesday to put a big push behind his embattled proposal to require local governments in the region to share some of their sales taxes.

Members of an eclectic coalition of low-income housing advocates, organized labor, religious groups, environmentalists and neighborhood organizations gathered on the Capitol steps to launch a lobbying campaign for the bill, AB 680.

Backers say the measure would help remove the powerful financial incentive local governments now have to chase auto malls, "big box" stores and other retailers.

"We're fed up with land-use decisions that lead to urban disinvestment, suburban sprawl, traffic congestion and the loss of open space," said Rachel Iskow of the Sacramento Mutual Housing Association, which builds and operates affordable housing. The housing association is one of 70 groups that have submitted letters of support.

Steinberg also plans to go before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday to seek formal backing. He also is requesting that each body commit up to $60,000 for lobbying.

There's little doubt that Steinberg faces a tough fight in the Capitol. Sales tax-sharing proposals floated in prior years have quickly died in the face of vehement protests from cities that stand to lose what they consider a vital chunk of their revenue.

In the Sacramento area, Roseville, Elk Grove and West Sacramento all voted to oppose an earlier version of Steinberg's bill, introduced in April. The bill is now parked in an Assembly committee.

But nobody in the Sacramento region seems to be dismissing Steinberg. Local governments are trying to come up with an alternative proposal to promote regional cooperation.

Steinberg is considered a rising star among Assembly Democrats, and he is widely expected to be named chairman of the influential Appropriations Committee at some point next year.

Steinberg has made it clear he intends to push hard for his proposal, which he has already amended several times to address opponents' concerns.

"The strength (of the bill) is Steinberg," said Martin Tuttle, executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which is comprised of

local governments in the region. The SACOG board, divided on the proposal, is expected to vote Dec. 13 on the measure.

"People are taking it seriously throughout the region, both those who are supportive and those who oppose it," said West Sacramento City Councilman Christopher Cabaldon.

"There is a lot of real, meaningful discussion going on," Cabaldon said. "Very few people are just saying, 'Hey, go away.' "

West Sacramento has voted to oppose the bill. The city has few retail stores but collects a large amount of sales tax on products sold by industrial tenants to other businesses, Cabaldon said.

Steinberg's bill would redistribute sales taxes generated by new retail projects in the six-county region. Now, each city or county gets to keep the sales tax paid within its borders. For instance, if a resident of midtown buys a couch in Roseville, the tax goes to Roseville.

Originally, AB 680 would have pooled all the sales taxes from Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, El Dorado, Sutter and Yuba counties and distributed them to local governments on the basis on population. But Steinberg has watered the legislation down considerably to mollify critics.

As it now stands, the bill would allow each jurisdiction to keep the sales tax it already collects, but would divide any growth in sales taxes three ways: One third would stay where it was generated and another third would be distributed on a per-capita basis to jurisdictions in the region.

The remaining third would return to the place where it was collected, but only if 10 percent of the housing being built there was affordable to low-income residents, and if the jurisdiction provided shelter for the homeless. The city or county also would have to have a plan for promoting development in established neighborhoods and for preserving open space. If a city or county failed to meet the criteria, the money would go to SACOG to use on regional projects.

So far, Steinberg has attracted support mostly from traditional Democratic and environmental sources. Low-income housing advocates at Wednesday's press conference decried the flight of wealth and jobs to suburbs where poor people can't afford to live.

Environmentalists lamented the effect of suburban growth on traffic congestion and air quality. A representative of the Sacramento Central Labor Council said the jobs created at "big box" stores pay too little and are located too far away from urban workers.

Steinberg said he also hopes to obtain endorsements from established suburbs such as Citrus Heights, whose shopping mall faces growing competition from Roseville. He is also courting companies that have an interest in promoting regional cooperation.

"I'm very hopeful," Steinberg said. "As much opposition as there has been, we're now starting to galvanize the support."

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