Some county residents and community activists here Sunday questioned a proposed half-cent sales tax increase to help bail out the bankrupt county, saying the measure would hurt the poor who cannot afford heavier taxes.
A few of the 150 participants in the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Orange County said the county should instead look to the wealthy and corporate taxpayers to raise revenue.
In a wide-ranging discussion, some people at the forum also expressed alarm that proposed county budget cuts to ease the financial crisis would cripple social services to the poor and to children.
Donna McCune of Irvine said, "I don't think there's any question that we need a tax." But she called a sales tax boost "regressive" and said the County Board of Supervisors should find a way to generate money without hurting the poor.
County supervisors last week decided conditionally to put the tax hike proposal on the June 27 countywide ballot.
The forum brought together people with various perspectives on the county fiscal crisis, including a representative of the business community, the founder of a local charity, and a prominent political activist.
Wayne D. Wedin, chairman of the Orange County Business Council, said the county needs to generate more income, and a half-cent sales tax hike is one way to do that. The business council, which favors the sales tax increase, has been active in seeking to resolve the fiscal crisis.
Wedin said supervisors still have to look at all options and not use taxes alone to solve the bankruptcy.
The council's support for a tax remedy for the bankruptcy, Wedin said, "is an absolutely abhorrent position for the business community to take, but it's one we feel is necessary."
Some felt the county should drop the sales tax increase plan and look toward raising more revenue by taxing the wealthy.
Connie Haddad, president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, said: "It's a very wealthy county who should look harder about how to tap into that wealth."
Haddad said the county should consider additional kinds of taxes, possibly including an "attendance tax" on tickets for sporting events or concerts.
However, she said some tax options, such as the attendance tax, would require legislative approval from Sacramento.
Jean Forbath, a board member and founder of Share Our Selves, a private charity, said the county must do more to bolster its services to the poor and indigent, services which face deep cuts in next year's budget submitted by county Chief Executive Officer William J. Popejoy.
"Who is suffering the most and paying the most for this incident?" Forbath said. "We need to reorder our priorities so that the people who are most vulnerable are protected.
"We have people who are very, very rich and people who are very, very poor, and the gap is getting larger."
Bill Mitchell, chairman of Orange County Common Cause, said the county has long been "overweight" and "the only possible good" that will come out of the bankruptcy is a leaner and more responsive bureaucracy.
One change, he said, could be to drastically reduce supervisors' power and permanently install a chief executive officer.