A revenue-raising tax on rental cars or parking is still far from a reality in San Mateo County but Supervisor Rich Gordon said it is never too soon for residents to consider if the idea is viable.

"It is important that citizens begin to think about what they want county government to do. We have a structural deficit and if we solve that only through program cuts, there are some things that will be cut that I think people will consider important,” Gordon said.

Gordon and Mark Church, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, received a brief update on a revenue tax possibility last Wednesday at the meeting of the Finance and Operations Committee. No decisions were made at that time but staff is currently looking at all manners of revenue raising, including taxes like measures Q and R which failed last November. In hopes of chipping away at the deficit — estimated to hit $100 million if not reined in — those taxes could come back before voters.

But while cities through San Mateo County are placing tax measures on the Nov. 3 ballot, the county taxes couldn’t do so before next June at the earliest.

State law holds that a business license tax enacted as a general tax be unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors first and then passed by a two-thirds majority of the electorate. Unless the supervisors unanimously declared a state of fiscal emergency, the election must be one in which at least one board seat is up for election.

The city of San Carlos ran into a similar catch when it wanted to place a revenue measure on the ballot last year because no councilmembers’ seats were up for vote. The city ultimately opted to wait until this year and voted 4-1 in favor of placing it on the November ballot.

The county is not pushing for this year, instead looking to next spring, Gordon said.

Also, the two revenue measures previously netted the unanimous support of the board, he said.

That, coupled with the backing the measures garnered just short of passage, are signs they might be successful a second time, he said.

Regardless, he added, now is the time for residents to look beyond their individual pocketbooks and weigh the impacts to the county.

The committee’s recent discussion was "very preliminary,” Gordon said, but should start a robust conversation on what fix is needed and plausible.

To place the measure on the June 2010 ballot, the board must approve it by March 12, 2010. If the board misses that deadline or the Nov. 2, 2010 election, the general tax could not be put on a ballot again until June 2012 without the emergency declaration.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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