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Business tax put on ballot after 11 hours of trading | News

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Palo Alto voters have a chance to approve a business tax in November, but the measures they consider will be much more modest than what the city council was considering just a few days ago.

The city council voted Wednesday night 6-to-1 to approve measures that would allow the city to shed its long-held status as one of the very few municipalities in the state without a business tax. I voted. However, in a last-minute compromise with business coalition leaders, city leaders cut the business tax rate from 11 cents per square foot per month to 7.5 cents per square foot, resulting in a $500,000 tax cut. Agreed to set an upper limit. This is a reduction from the $1 million ceiling in the previous proposal.

Both versions of the tax exclude all businesses with less than 10,000 square feet of space.

The council agreed to scale back the tax bill after two days of negotiations with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, the tax’s main critics. Another group, he said, had previously joined the anti-tax coalition, NAIOP Silicon Valley, but announced earlier in the week that it was withdrawing from the opposition because it lacked the resources to campaign against the business tax. did.

On Wednesday, the opposition abruptly dissolved, with representatives from both groups confirming they would no longer oppose the tax bill. Their decision follows Tuesday’s arbitration session coordinated by former mayor Larry Klein, negotiations with Mayor Pat Bart and a city council task force made up of city council members Eric Philces and Tom DuBois, and city officials. It came down after continued fine-tuning to the tax proposal.

Mayor Ed Cicada said mediation efforts on Tuesday were productive but ended without an agreement.

“The effort has been very broad and, frankly, I think it has shed a lot of light on all parties involved in drawing out areas of interest and flexibility,” Cicada said. , yesterday’s mediation efforts were unsuccessful, so at the end of the day all parties left, concluding that there were still gaps to be addressed, and were ready to report that no progress had been made.

Staff continued conversations with business leaders on Wednesday to make further changes, after which they secured the business group’s commitment not to oppose the measure.

With this accord in hand, Congress voted Wednesday to rescind the tax resolution that called for an 11-cent-per-square-foot tax passed Monday, and a new resolution with a lower tax rate would have to be submitted by the city. adopted. To Santa Clara County by Friday. If approved, the business tax will generate about $9.6 million annually, with the proceeds going toward affordable housing, public safety, and rail corridor improvements.

“Our chances of success with voters have improved significantly as a result of a compromise with no opposition from the business community.” I couldn’t do it, but I got what I needed at this point.”

As part of the same vote, the council voted on a bill supporting the city’s historic policy of transferring revenues from the gas business to the General Fund. The city recently stopped the transfer after a lawsuit from resident Miriam Greene led the court to conclude that the transfer constituted illegal taxes and ordered the city to refund them.

The business coalition, which had previously vowed to campaign against both tax measures, assured the city after Wednesday’s compromise that it would not oppose either proposal.

Dan Costenbauder, vice president of tax policy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents large companies, said his group carefully considered the city’s revised proposal and members agreed to drop their objections. said. On Monday, both his group and the Chamber of Commerce lobbied for a rate not exceeding 6 cents per square foot, and made no commitments about the group’s potential to change their positions. But on Wednesday, they both agreed not to oppose slightly higher interest rates.

“It’s been a long road, but our alliance does not stand in the way of this opportunity for Palo Alto to finally introduce a business tax,” Kostenbauder said Wednesday.

Wednesday’s vote marks the end of a winding road that began more than five years ago. The council originally considered putting the bill on his 2020 ballot, but canceled that plan due to the pandemic and reinstated it last year. But while the last-minute revisions succeeded in cooling the passion of some of the heated debates, some tax advocates grew lukewarm and deeply ambivalent about the final outcome.

Both DuBois and city councilor Lydia Kou said they were disappointed with the results of the city paying its taxes, which DuBois called “insufficient.”

“The question that council members have to ask themselves is is something better than nothing? Maybe. A lot of things,” DuBois said.

Kou had a problem with the nature of the negotiations. The negotiations involved a group of companies, she argued, but they didn’t give enough weight to what residents wanted.

“It was mainly contact and negotiation with the coalition, but it also required engagement with the residents,” Kou said.

City Councilman Greer Stone shared the disappointment, but concluded after speaking with the city’s polling consultants that the tax would be much more likely to pass if there were no organized opposition. Opinions over the measures are so divided, he said, that the result would likely be a “jumping ball” if companies protested.

He called Wednesday’s poll “one of the hardest polls I’ll ever take.”

“I’m not happy with this, but we’re working on the art of possibility,” Stone said.

The only city councilor to oppose the measure was Greg Tanaka, who was adamantly opposed to all previous attempts to tax corporations. City Councilman Allison Cormack, who joined him in voting against an earlier attempt to impose a higher business tax on the ballot, saw Wednesday’s result as a big victory and enthusiastically supported the revised version.

“Having no opposition is critical to our success,” said Cormack. “We believe we can prepare this community for a very stable and positive future.”