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AC Editorial: Important election year ahead

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Voters should be forgiven for becoming cynical after hearing from pundits every two years about how that particular year is the most important election in history. But even in a time of peak cynicism, voters this year should pay attention as 2020 is shaping up to be a significant election year.

In an attempt to gain more relevance in the presidential nominating process, California this year jumped its primary election to near the front of the queue. As a result, we will vote with 13 other states on Super Tuesday, March 3.

That means that Petaluma voters will have mail-in ballots in hand in less than a month, so it’s time to start paying attention to the issues.

The November 2020 election should be monumental and could see historic turnout as Democrats seek to unseat President Donald Trump. But, while that ballot is still taking shape, the March slate has been finalized.

Petaluma voters will have two countywide tax measures and a state school bond issue to decide on March 3 along with selecting a presidential nominee.

The Democratic presidential primary ballot will feature at least 15 candidates. California has the most delegates at stake of all the Super Tuesday states. While candidates haven’t spent as much time here as early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, Los Angeles hosted a primary debate last month, evidence that the state is wielding more influence this year.

The state ballot measure on the March ballot is aptly named Proposition 13, the same title as the landmark 1978 initiative that froze property tax levels. Some blame a dearth of property tax revenue for the need for some cities and school districts to ask voters for additional revenue sources.

This year’s Prop. 13 would authorize $15 billion in bonds for new schools and upgrades of existing public schools, colleges and universities. It would provide millions in grant funding, for which Petaluma schools could apply.

Measure I is an extension of an existing countywide sales tax that funds SMART. It would keep in place the quarter-cent sales tax that initially funded the commuter rail system through 2059.

Though the current sales tax doesn’t expire for another 10 years, SMART officials say it is necessary to extend it early in order to restructure debt associated with building the initial service from Larkspur to north of Santa Rosa. An extension to Windsor is funded, and SMART seems to have a plan for a second station in Petaluma, but beyond that, the rail agency does not have funding to get to Healdsburg and Cloverdale and the sales tax extension would not provide those funds.

Measure G is a half-cent sales tax that would support countywide fire services that have been stretched thin by recent wildfires and efforts to consolidate departments.

The measure is expected to raise $51 million annually, which would be distributed among the various county fire departments. Petaluma Fire Department is in line for $1.3 million annually, or about 3% of the revenue, a sticking point for some Petaluma leaders dealing with public safety budget shortfalls. It is worth noting that Petaluma firefighters have served on the front lines of all major Sonoma County wildfires.

The November ballot should start to take shape around late summer. Potential ballot measures include an extension of the countywide sales tax that funds transportation projects, a new countywide sales tax for mental health services and a citywide sales tax for public safety, streets or other services.

The Petaluma City Council will have three seats up for grabs, and voters will select our representative for the State Assembly, State Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

And, of course, the top of the November ballot will feature the last Democrat standing after the primary process facing off with President Trump, who is seeking reelection.

Be sure and watch this space as we will interview candidates and make endorsements on races and ballot measures and help you navigate this historic election year.

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