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Richmond First City in State to Endorse 'Millionaire's Tax'

The symbolic measure supports statewide ballot initiative for November

Richmond City Council March 2011

Richmond is making a habit of being the first.

In June, Richmond became first city in Contra Costa County to issue its own municipal identification cards.

 In December, the city came one step closer to becoming the first city in the state to impose a tax on soda.

Tuesday night, the City Council made Richmond the first city in the state to endorse a “millionaire’s tax.”

The council voted 6-0-1 to pass the symbolic measure supporting a statewide initiative for the November ballot to raise state taxes on those making more than $1 million annually. Councilmember Corky Booze abstained.

If the act’s supporters get the more than 500 thousand  signatures required, the measure on the ballot would propose an extra 3-percent tax on income an individuals who earn between $1-2 million annually, and 5 percent on income over $3 million annually.

The proposed initiative comes in part as a response to California’s fiscal crisis. Since 2008, education, welfare, child and elderly health services have been among the programs to undergo deep funding cuts. This year, Governor Jerry Brown has projected a $5 billion cut to education along with reductions in other services.

If California can’t create additional revenue, cities like Richmond will continue to lose services.

“We have so much that we need as a city and so much we need as a state,” Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said. “We need better schools, better equipment.  We all know all these services that have been cut and will continue to be cut … affect us tremendously.”

The resolution to support the measure was proposed by Councilmembers Jeff Ritterman, Jim Rogers and Tom Butt. In all, if the state were to increase its tax rate following the measure’s proposal it would bring in about $6 billion, according to projections by the California Federation of Teachers.

Brown is in the process of collecting signatures for his own measure, which proposes an initiative that would increase sales tax, as well as increase tax on those who earn more than $250,000 a year.

But Ritterman said that a millionaire tax makes more sense.  Not only would it bring in more money than Brown’s proposal in the long run, he said, it would redistribute wealth by taxing people who can afford it.

“On average the Jerry Brown tax will cost each of you $123 a year,” Ritterman said. “This tax won’t affect anyone in this room.”

Ritterman said that the millionaire tax has broad public support, noting recent polling data that showed nearly two-thirds of Californians backing the initiative.

Residents at the meeting Tuesday said it was crucial for Richmond to take an active role in garnering support for the initiative.

“No rich people are going to be support this thing,” said Mike Parker, a Richmond resident. “This is something that the people do and if you want it done, you have to do it.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said she was convinced that the measure was favored by residents during a rally Monday, when she joined a group of community members to hang a millionaire tax banner above the freeway.

“People were honking like crazy in support,” McLaughlin said. “This tax has support, I assure you. We are definitely on the right track. But, it does need the support of you to go out and gather signatures.”

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