The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is moving toward letting voters determine whether the local onshore oil industry should pay an extra dollar a barrel in taxes. The vote could come as early as next June, or possibly November.
We have a more practical suggestion — why not just put a measure on the ballot to ban all oil development in the county. That’s essentially what the board majority is attempting to do, but going through a back door to get the deed done.
In fact, there are many county residents who would like to see no oil development in this region. And you can bet most of them live on the South Coast, holding a different perspective on commerce than those of us here in North County, for whom oil development and agriculture are major economic generators.
The widening north/south split was made even more apparent at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, during which North County supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam were virtually ignored, while the South Coast-centric trio of Salud Carbajal, Janet Wolf and Doreen Farr discussed the pros and cons of tacking an extra $1 tax on every barrel of oil produced onshore.
The board majority made its feelings known about oil development at a previous meeting, at which the majority assessed extra-ordinary emissions restrictions on the proposed Santa Maria Energy project in the Orcutt Hills.
This proposed added tax simply increases the burden a singled-out industry must endure, if it wants to continue doing business in Santa Barbara County.
The extra tax notion sprang from a civil grand jury report published last June suggesting the county could enhance its revenue stream by tapping the oil industry. Based on previous years’ numbers, such a tax could produce $3 million-plus in revenue.
The fact the board majority seems to be conveniently overlooking is that in those same years, the county collected more than $8 million in property taxes, and even more in other fees.
The question then becomes — how much more punishment will the oil industry take before it decides the cost of doing business here is just too steep.
We get the distinct feeling that’s the board majority’s general idea, taxing an industry it doesn’t want out of existence.
Don’t get us wrong, the oil industry has a long and fairly dirty history in Santa Barbara County. But at the same time, the county has extracted more than a pound of flesh from the oil producers.
And today’s oil operations are not what they were in your grandfather’s day, or even your father’s. Modern technology has cleaned up oil projects considerably, and when accidents do happen, the county and state have regulatory relief mechanisms in place.
Opponents of the tax proposal were out in full force at last week’s board meeting, including one who opined that a ballot measure to impose the new tax would be defeated by voters, guaranteed.
We’re not quite as certain about the outcome of such a vote, but we are sure the oil industry — if it is to continue operating in Santa Barbara County at all — does not need more taxes and fees.
There is no sense in singling out an industry to carry an extra tax burden, unless county officials plan to tack extra taxes and fees onto other industries.