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COVID-19 Impacts, Homelessness Top List of Voter Funding Priorities

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Santa Monica

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By Jorge Casuso

June 19, 2020 -- Along with reducing homelessness, helping the City cope with the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are the top funding priorities for local voters, according to a poll for the City taken last month.

The poll of 562 Santa Monica voters was conducted by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research between May 26 and May 31 to gauge support for a luxury real estate transfer tax the City Council voted to place on the November ballot at its meeting June 9.

The proposed ballot measure would double the real estate transfer tax on sales exceeding $5 million from $3 to $6 per $1,000.

The money would be used to help the City bridge a looming $150 million budget deficit due to the coronavirus shutdown that has led to drastic budget cutbacks in programs and services ("City Council Slashes Up to 247 Full-time Jobs," May 6, 2020).

Most respondents said the City needs more funding at the present time, with 28 percent saying there is a "great need" and 26 percent "some need."

About 25 percent said there was little or no need for additional funding, with 18 percent saying there was no need and 6 percent little need. Twenty-two percent weren't sure.

About half of the voters polled said they would be more likely to support a local tax increase if the money was used to fund "essential local city services."

The likely support was 29 percent to fund "coronavirus recovery efforts," according to the poll. Twenty percent of the respondents were not sure.

Taken about two-and a half months after the City declared a coronaviruss emergency on March 16, the poll reflects the public concern about the economic and health impacts of COVID-19.

Fifty-three percent of the respondents thought it would be "a very important use of funds from a local tax" for "economic recovery and helping local businesses re-open early."

More than half also thought it was important to use the funds for "cleaning public parks, beaches and libraries" (52 percent) and "cleaning and disinfecting public spaces" (51 percent).

Reducing homelessness and public safety -- two longstanding priorities -- remained at the top of voters' concerns.

Fifty-two percent of those polled said funding for shelters and services to reduce homelessness "would be a very important use of the funds from a local tax."

That compares to 34 percent who thought it was very important to use the new funds for "making the city more environmentally sustainable" and 30 percent for "reducing traffic congestion."

Funding for police and fire services was very important for 49 percent of the respondents, while mental health services for youth and helping seniors pay rent were each very important for 46 percent.

Feeding the hungry was a very important use of funds for 44 percent of the respondents and after school programs was very important for 41 percent.

The coronavirus emergency also impacted voters' views of a business license tax proposed by leaders of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights ("SMRR Proposes Business Tax Hikes, Chamber Stunned," May 7, 2020).

Proposed to help bridge the projected budget shortfall, the tax would target businesses such as "banks, digital firms, studio offices, law firms (and) biomedical firms" that "have, for the most part, been much less harmed by the shut down."

The poll found no difference in support for the business license tax and real estate transfer tax, with 62 percent of voters saying they would definitely or probably support the measures based on the ballot title and summary.

But support for the business license tax dropped by 23 points after respondents heard pro and con statements, the pollsters said.

These included "mention of the potential impact of a tax increase on business during the current crisis," the pollsters wrote.

"In contrast, there was virtually no decline in support for the real estate transfer tax after voters heard pro/con statements."

The City government got mixed reviews from the voters polled, with 77 percent saying it was excellent or good at providing city services, while only 24 percent said the same for managing the budget.

Seventy-four percent said the City government was excellent or good at "responding to the coronavirus."

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