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Editorial: Fix housing before increasing taxes

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Liberals love to tax and spend, so the theory goes. Petaluma, and Sonoma County in general, are solidly liberal areas.

So, with three tax measures on the March 3 ballot broadly representing education and climate change — key liberal issues — it would seem that “yes” campaigns would have been celebrating on election night.

But that wasn’t the case, and the reason may have more to do with housing than any of the issues actually on the ballot.

Voters in Sonoma County defeated Measure G, Marin and Sonoma County voters turned back Measure I, and statewide, Prop. 13 failed to gain support.

Measure G was a new half-cent sales tax that would have raised more than $50 million annually for county fire agencies. In an era where climate change has made intense wildfires the new normal, proponents pitched the measure as necessary to keeping residents safe.

Measure I, a 30-year extension of the current quarter-cent sales tax that supports the SMART train, was opposed by a more than $1 million “no” campaign. Commuter rail is also pitched as a climate change mitigation measure, taking greenhouse gas-emitting cars off the highways.

Prop. 13 was a $15 billion bond to repair California’s aging schools. Like any indebtedness measure, it would have been repaid by taxpayers.

Pundits and government officials will now debrief and attempt to determine why voters rejected revenue measures tied to issues that they seemingly support. The answer, according to voters, has to do with the cost of housing.

Voters interviewed at the polls cited the high cost of housing as a main reason for voting “no” on tax measures that they would otherwise support. It is another consequence of the state’s housing crisis, which government officials will need to first address before asking voters to open their pocketbooks for other issues.

The Bay Area, including Petaluma, simply hasn’t built enough housing to keep pace with demand. As a result, housing prices continue to rise. Residents who were accustomed to spending one-third of their paycheck on housing, now spend one-half or more for the roof over their head.

This is driving many working class families from the area. Those who stay are in no mood to approve measures that would raise their taxes when they are scrimping every last dime to pay for housing.

There are certainly other important issues like climate change, fire prevention and education. But the number one issue on many voters’ minds is the high cost of living in this area, and they find it tone deaf when politicians ask them to raise their taxes when they are living paycheck to paycheck.

Politicians have acknowledged the housing crisis but have done little to solve the problem. The only way to make housing affordable for all is to build more housing for all income levels.

Once housing prices start to subside and voters have more disposable income on hand, they will be much more open to taxing themselves to spend on important issues.

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