Stanton Gets Heat for Silence on Measure R

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Orange County Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, the only board member who has yet to announce his position on Measure R, is being criticized for not taking a stand on the issue by proponents and opponents of the proposed half-cent sales tax.

Less than three weeks before the June 27 election, Stanton is considering drafting a Plan B--an alternative to the sales tax, according to other board members. But many involved on either side of the half-cent sales tax complain that Stanton may be dragging his feet in announcing which side he will take.

"It's time you get off the seat and go one way or the other," anti-tax activist Carole Walters told Stanton at Tuesday's board meeting.

But Stanton on Wednesday shrugged off the criticism. He said he has been carefully scrutinizing budget figures, calculating bankruptcy projections and meeting with constituents so he can he came up with an informed decision. He said he plans to disclose his stand "soon."

"I will announce my position, loud and clear," said Stanton, who rejected any notion that he has delayed a decision on the issue because it might affect his political career.

"I'm going to do what I know is right, what I believe is right," he said.

But since the supervisors voted unanimously in late March to hold a special election on the tax, some wonder what's taking Stanton so long in announcing his stance.

"It makes him appear to be the Hamlet of Orange County politics," said Orange County Common Cause chairman William R. Mitchell. "He's got a full-time job to think about it."

Measure R would raise the sales tax from 7.75% to 8.25% for 10 years and is expected to raise $130 million annually, against which the county can borrow to begin paying back those owed money after a risky investment strategy lost nearly $1.7 billion in the county investment pool and forced the county into bankruptcy.

Tax supporters say the additional revenue is needed to maintain basic county health and public safety services and to pay creditors. Opponents say the county hasn't done all it can to raise needed cash by selling assets, privatizing services and making deeper budget cuts.

The issue is so complex that many political observers believe voters are relying on their elected officials to offer direction on how to vote.

As a result, some Measure R supporters are worried that Stanton will ultimately join Supervisor Jim Silva in rejecting the proposed new tax. If two of the county's top elected officials oppose the tax, it would be harder to convince the voting public to support it, they said.

"That wouldn't be a good sign for us," said Connie Haddad, president of the League of Women Voters Orange County and a co-chair of the Yes on Measure R campaign.

The three remaining supervisors support the tax.

Those on both sides of the proposed tax said Stanton is in a bind between the county's fiscal crisis and tax opponents who are threatening a recall if he backs away from an earlier "no new taxes" promise.

Patrick Quaney, a member of the Committees of Correspondence, a vocal anti-tax group, said he is offended by Stanton's indecision.

"I think he wants to see which way the wind is blowing. I think that is a bad way of doing things," Quaney said. "We believe he should get off the fence . . . show some leadership."

Thomas A. Fuentes, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, said he is eagerly awaiting the supervisor's position.

"Certainly, I believe the time has come for every elected leader in Orange County to take a stand and I would hope that Roger would take a 'no' position," Fuentes said.

Supervisor William G. Steiner said Stanton has been "working diligently to try and come up with a Plan B that he can support, instead of Measure R."

But even Stanton's board colleague admits time is running out.

"I think he should have a legitimate alternative or come out and support Measure R," Steiner said.

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