The headline for this week is council’s approval of an ordinance to create a payroll tax to support enhanced community safety services. Based on community response at the public form, online submissions and in conversations in the community, the final ordinance included an exemption for all minimum wage workers; and a reduced payroll tax to 0.03% for workers who earn between $12-15/hour. All other workers will pay a slightly increased tax to compensate for the revenue lost by those exemptions, 0.044%. The employer rate was held at 0.02%.
The new ordinance also requires a public vote after seven years to approve continuation of the tax; as well as a report regarding the financial impacts of the tax on businesses. In a second vote, council also approved sending to the November ballot a charter amendment that would constrain future councils from raising the tax rate and from diverting funds from the tax to a purpose other than community safety.
I recognize that some in the community object to a payroll tax in principle. I appreciate that concern. Too many in our community struggle to make ends meet, and now, if they may make above minimum wage, they are subject to another tax. At the same time, it is important to remember that the amount of the tax is very small. It is designed to be broad and shallow. It is able to be a small tax because so many people will pay into it. While most agree we need better community safety services, no one has come forward with an alternative revenue proposal that comes anywhere close to raising this amount of funds with such a small request to taxpayers.
The premise is that public safety, like roads, is something we all need and from which we all benefit. When public safety systems are inadequate, as they have been in Eugene for decades, we all suffer. How many of you have experienced a property crime and been told by the police they will be slow to arrive or not come at all? How many have complained of people who run red lights with impunity because no officer is available to stop and issue a ticket? How many have complained about disruptive or threatening behavior in your neighborhood for which there was no timely police response? Our new police chief is committed to addressing these livability crimes with the revenues from this tax. The results will be measurable and will be reported as increased service calls and reduced time for police response.
Unanswered complaints about public safety impact our entire metropolitan area – Springfield residents who work in Eugene are just as vulnerable in the city limits as are Eugene residents. And they share with Eugene the 911 services and Fire Department that will be expanded with this new revenue stream.
Finally, this proposal has been criticized both for providing too little support for homeless services and for providing too much. The community safety ordinance is approved in tandem with our initiative to enhance and expand our homeless services as recommended in the TAC report. The two efforts are significant and complementary; and they rely on different funding streams. Both are accountable to you, the voters. And both will change our community for the better in the coming years.