VANGUARD ANALYSIS – There’s an old legal aphorism that goes, “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”
It occurs to me yet again, with regard to Measure E, that this is precisely what the No on Measure E side is doing. They know that they cannot win on the merits of the argument. They have not won on the merits of the argument in 2011 or 2012. The public has consistently backed parcel taxes in Davis. For the last twenty years, between 67 and 75 percent of the voters have approved each parcel tax.
Instead of having a debate on the merits in the last two weeks of the election, we have complaints about ballot language long after the 10-day window to complain about ballot language and we have arguments about constitutional issues.
“They believe there are constitutional issues when the School Board has decided to apply the law in different way[s] to different groups,” writes Thomas Randall. “They see that the fact that home residents who practically will pay the bill of Measure E by themselves, on one hand, are treated entirely different tha[n] groups that do not pay the taxes at all or do not pay equally such as apartment residents, senior citizens and people who do not live in Davis but send their kids to Davis Schools on the other.”
Ironically, Thomas Randall and Janet Zwahlen, who filed the suit complaining that some do not have to pay for the parcel tax and yet can vote for it, are two people who don’t pay for the parcel tax.
It has long been settled law that people need only be eligible to vote in order to vote on a tax measure – they do not have to be eligible or required to pay the tax.
Proposition 13, for all of its flaws, actually anticipates this problem by raising the bar for taxes to a two-thirds majority. And yet, some still whine that those who do not pay taxes can vote. It takes two of my yes votes to count the same as your one no vote, and yet the complaint is that the system is tilted against the taxpayer? Really?
The opponents of the parcel tax argue that it’s the school board’s “bad decisions” that “have caused a deficit of $3.2 million.” They never explain what those bad decisions are. They never talk about the state budget cuts – more than $10 million since 2008.
They never talk about deferrals which have caused a cash flow crisis to the school district that most people do not begin to understand.
The parcel tax is not a fair tax – everyone in this community knows and understands it. But the state law precludes any sort of fair tax. You can only levy a flat tax on property or parcel, you cannot make it proportional to income or the value of the property.
If you do not like that, change Proposition 13.
The only two things the district can do is allow for a senior exemption in the hopes that seniors on fixed budgets will take advantage of it, but that wealthy seniors will not. Does it work? Hard to know. Only 1000 parcels have taken the exemption and roughly 5000 seniors live in Davis.
They can also make a multiunit dwelling a smaller amount than a house. It is not perfect, but it makes sense that an apartment owner should not have to pay $204 per unit, the same rate as if it were a single family home.
In the end, none of these questions really gets to the core point. The state has not allowed the district to keep up with inflation, it has cut funding to schools several times in the last five years, and if Proposition 30 does not pass, it is going to cut another $3.7 million from our budget come January.
The school district has two choices: they can cut teachers, they can cut programs that serve students like counselors and psychologists, and they can shorten the school year; or they can ask the local community to renew the current parcel tax and, if Proposition 30 does not pass, supplement for that loss as well.
Unfortunately, the parcel tax is the only legal way that the school district can raise tax money.
The question before the voters is very simple – will you levy an additional tax or would you prefer that the school district make further cuts?
All across the state school districts are facing that same bitter reality. Most communities have not been able to keep their programs. But we are different here in Davis – we have kept our commitment to quality education and while the district has had to make too many painful cuts – most recently another 50 teachers laid off last spring when the leadership of the DTA refused to make concessions – we have preserved the core of our programs.
So now it is once more unto the breach.
I ask voters to do one thing this election day: do not listen to the voices of the malcontents pounding on the table – look at the realities facing the school district, decide what your priorities are, and vote on the merits of the proposal before you.
—David M. Greenwald reporting