Analysis: Survey Bolsters Concern Parcel Tax Would Not Pass This Fall

road-failureIn yesterday’s column, we summarized the Davis Downtown’s survey on the fiscal crisis.  At the outset of the following analysis we warn that the survey is not a representative sample – in fact it oversamples from a highly informed population, as 89.6% of Vanguard readers and 81% overall were previously aware of the city’s fiscal crisis.

But, that being the case, we find the results sobering on the city’s chances for passing a second parcel tax this fall.  If you recall from the discussion in February, Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted that there had not been polling conducted on the chances for passing a parcel tax.  The council nevertheless put a reduced sales tax measure on the ballot that would deal with employee compensation increases but not roads, parks or other infrastructure.

The key question is: “The City is likely to propose a $150 parcel tax for the November 2014 ballot. Revenues from the parcel tax would be used for repairing roads, recreation amenities (pools/parks/etc), purchase of Nugget Fields, money-saving irrigation expenditures, and other potential enhancements to the community. Would you support the adoption of a parcel tax for the above mentioned items?”

While Vanguard readers strongly back the measure, even they fall short of a two-thirds majority, with 63.3% supporting the measure.  Overall, the numbers are bad.  For the entire survey, 51% support the tax.  If you remove Vanguard respondents, far less than half support a measure that requires a two-thirds majority.

The survey, of course, pulls heavily from a more business oriented and therefore conservative community, but the Vanguard results suggest at least that the measure will have trouble passing.

Perhaps the most sobering part of these results is that the readership bases, particularly the Vanguard readers, are found to be highly aware of the issues and if the city cannot, in the absence of a campaign, poll at 63%, what chances do they have of running a successful education campaign when even educated respondents are shy of a majority?

There are several caveats to even the Vanguard section of the poll.

First, this is not a random and representative survey and so, while Vanguard readers might be more inclined to support a parcel tax than business leaders, they may be less inclined than the general population.

Second, in addition to this not being a representative survey, perhaps the wording of the question matters.  The authors acknowledge they are not pollsters and clearly some of the questions might be leading; however, for the most part, the question appears to be relatively fair.

Given more hope is the response to the questions on unfunded road maintenance work.  More than three-quarters of Vanguard readers and nearly two-thirds of respondents overall were aware of the “significant street maintenance backlog” and nearly 84% of Vanguard readers and 81.5% of respondents overall were willing to sacrifice now to pay a lower total cost.

That suggests that the city needs to sell their parcel tax as a way to save money into the future.

However, despite that, it’s a close call.  71% of Vanguard readers but only 61% of respondents overall were willing to pay an additional tax to fund street repairs.

From this we conclude that the parcel tax is going to be a sell.  Unlike the sales tax, which has only nominal opposition and a much lower threshold, there is no assurance that the city can pass a second parcel tax.

This represents a critical decision by the public, but also critical errors by the city council and management of the city.

As we have reported before, it was last June that City Manager Steve Pinkerton first suggested to the council that we were headed for a renewed structural deficit.  It was at this meeting that the idea of a revenue measure was first floated.

It was even earlier than this that we had the presentation on the pavement maintenance issue that showed the city to heading for hundreds of millions in pavement backlogs.

But, instead of reaching out to the public in the six months between June and December, we saw almost no action in the city’s behalf.  Instead, it was at the meeting right before the Christmas break where the budget update showed a $5 million deficit.

It was only through informal action by councilmembers Dan Wolk and Brett Lee that there was any kind of public outreach – the belated focus group that suggested the two tax approach.

But, had the city started this process early, they could have done polling in the summer or fall on the willingness of the public to support various kinds of tax issues.  And they could have done outreach to the public to educate them on the enormity of the crisis.

However, this polling suggests even when the public is largely aware of the crisis, they are not necessarily willing to pass revenue measures.  At some point, we need to cross tabulate to see whether the public that knows of the issue is more likely to support measures than those who do not.

Clearly, the council needs to do that polling for the parcel tax after the June elections.  One of the questions they will answer is amount the public is willing to pay in increased taxes to fully fund road repairs.

It is a difficult question to evaluate, and it had among the highest skipped rates, perhaps suggesting an unwillingness to support any tax (which was not offered as an option, which probably taints the survey).

For the Vanguard, a narrow plurality is willing to support $150 over $50 in a parcel tax.  For the overall group, 42% support $50, another 31% support $150.

Again, the question does not lend itself to clean interpretation and one of the things the council will need to do is figure out what level the voters are willing to support and also figure out exactly how much they will need.

These results have been our concern in this process all along.  We are convinced that the city will pass its sales tax measure, but getting a parcel tax at two-thirds, at least according to these data, flawed as they are, suggest that this will be a tough sell in the fall.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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      1. Frankly

        I don’t think they are flying blind, but two of them are on the way out and not really motivated to do the work, and one is up for re-election and taking a lower profile so as to not foment controversy, and the other two are over-worked.

        And we have our city manager with short-timer syndrome.

        I think the expectation is that the sales tax measure will pass… but, barely.

    1. Frankly

      Started my income tax filing this last weekend, and it appears I will be sending more money to the government that I otherwise would have injected back into the economy. Which brings up the point that people view any proposed tax increase in context with all other tax increases. So in that respect, the federal government is competing with the state government which is competing with local government. And this local tax increase measure is late to the game of Democrat tax increases.

      Lastly, the vote will happen soon enough after tax filing season where many families will be still upset that their refunds were smaller, or that they had to write additional checks to the government.

      1. Barack Palin

        That’s what I’m saying Frankly, people are getting taxed out. I too just submitted my taxes and used to be able to deduct medical expenses that exceeded 7.5% of my income. Low and behold, because of Obamacare you can now only deduct medical expenses above 10% of you income which cost me several hundreds of dollars in new taxes. They get you so many different ways now that I really do feel people are starting to say enough is enough. Some think it’s just a matter of educating the public, because they want new taxes they feel if the public were only educated they would know better and vote for new taxes too. Maybe they’re already educated and have thought it out and are just going to say NO to any new taxation because they’re already tapped out.

        1. Tia Will

          “They get you so many different ways now that I really do feel people are starting to say enough is enough”

          I don’t believe that this is about people being educated, or about changes in taxation. I can remember my very conservative father and mother, my dad with a high school education and my mom having dropped out after junior high saying with regard to taxes “enough is enough” back in 1960.

          What I believe that this is about is a difference in philosophy with regard to taxation. I see taxation as an investment in what we wish to see our society become. Barack Palin and Frankly seen to see taxation as “money out of your pocket” but without considering whether that absence is for good or for ill.
          What I have never seen any person who speaks out against taxation give me an estimate of is, “what is the right amount of taxation”. When someone steps up and shows me their estimate of the “right amount of federal, state, and local taxation” and the calculations that they used to arrive at their estimate, it might go along way to convincing me that this is based on “education”. Until then, I see it, just as I see my own preference as nothing more than that, personal vision and preference.

          1. Barack Palin

            Okay Tia Will, I’ll throw a figure out for whatever good that will do. I think total taxation should not exceed 25%. Now I’m talking total taxation, which includes everyting, property tax, sales tax, income tax, etc…….
            So tell me Tia will, what do you consider the right amount you should be giving?

          2. Tia Will

            Thanks for responding Barack Palin.

            That is a great start. Now how did you arrive at that calculation ?

            I don’t pretend to know what is the “right amount”. But then, I feel no resentment over paying my taxes and am not commenting on how the government is over taxing me nor claiming that those who disagree with me are simply uneducated.

          3. Barack Palin

            I never said that those that disagree with me are simply uneducated. Reread my post and tell me where I said that. Quit twisting what I said and putting words in my mouth.
            I think that giving the gov’t 1 out of every 4 of my dollars is more than enough if they spent wisely and got rid of the waste and the many uneeded programs.

          4. Tia Will

            I agree with you that you did not say that in those words. I may have misinterpreted your point about education when you stated that some believe it is just a matter of education, I assumed that you disagreed with this point of view which implied to me that you felt that the educated would believe that they were paying enough or too much already. If that is not a valid inference, I apologize.

            However, that does not address the question of how you arrived at the 25%. I remain curious.

      2. Tia Will


        Be patient with me. I get it that you have a personal belief that we are overtaxed and that you would prefer to determine directly where to “inject your money into the economy”. So the part of your comment “I will be sending more money to the government that I otherwise would have injected back into the economy” I don’t understand is how you do not feel that your taxes are an injection of money into the economy.

        Let’s say that those specific tax dollars go to upkeep on interstate highways, or to nutritional supplements in the form of school lunches for children living below the poverty line, or to supporting rehab including job retraining and physical therapy for returning vets, or to military or space research applications, or to disaster relief, how is that you do not perceive these as “injections into the economy”?

        Now if your point is that you disagree with how that money is spent, I couldn’t agree more. I would prefer that not one cent of my money have gone to support either the war in Afghanistan or Iraq. But that is a purchasing choice, not a pretense that my taxes are somehow not related to the economy. The money that I am sending in is circulated in the economy, sometimes for “purchases” I support, sometimes for those I do not. But I would never believe that once it is out of my pocket, it is not supporting the broader economy.

        1. Frankly

          First of all, I would have injected most if not all of it into the local or regional economy. Your point I think is that the tax money I send to the government eventually gets cycled back into the economy. Maybe, but then maybe it gets sent to a foreign country. Maybe it gets spent outside of my local area and out of my state. Assuming it does stay in this country, then we get to the point about value and efficiency. Does the government add more human value with my hard dollars than does the private economy?

          For example, let’s say I pay $1 million in federal taxes over a 10 year period (hypothetically). What if I banked that $1 million and used it to open or expand a business that provided jobs? What if I used it to pay for products and services that other private companies provided and those companies provided jobs? What if I donated it to private charities?

          The fundamental problem with this trickle-down government concept that lefties push is the tremendous inefficiency. Compared to the private economy, it takes many time greater tax dollars to deliver commensurate human value. Look at the cost of Obamacare… the website alone has cost about $250 million including all sunk costs and committed contracts. And this does not include the cost of all the state insurance exchange websites. The estimate I am reading is over $500 million! So you get to make the case that all of that money went to pay people that worked on designing and developing these websites. That is true. But you could take an equivalent effort in complete private-sector hands and it would have been completed for much less and likely without all the problems.

          Government is often just a bungling, meddling middleman siphoning off a large percentage of the funding to enrich the politicians and employees of government.

          Keeping government as small as necessary and keeping money in the hands of the citizens is the most efficient way to deliver human value.

          Now, I understand that you dislike individual competition for greater prosperity. You dislike the “meanness” of a free capitalist system… one that leaves some people in the dust because they are unable to do what is necessary to get on the prosperity bandwagon. You focus on that empty part of the glass that glows with social injustice. And because of this you support the inefficiency since it delivers greater equality (in your mind).

          The problem as I see it is that you falsely and wronging attribute benevolence to government… you assign a matronly persona to it while you put the private economy more in a camp of a more abusive patriarchy. This is where I think you and others with a left-leaning view are dangerously wrong. Government is not a loving institution. It is an amorphous blob that only cares about feeding and perpetuating itself. The private economy, if cared for and nurtured to grow enough, is much more caring. It is also much more transparent in how it works… a system that exchanges value consideration for value delivered. Mostly though it is a much more efficient per dollar method to deliver human value… to improve the human condition.

          1. Tia Will

            And I believe that of the two of us, it is you who chooses to describe the government and public sector in terms of maternalistic vs paternalistic traits. I have never posited the same, yet you have told me that I believe this many times.

            I don’t see either the government, nor your “invisible hand” of the free market as benevolent. Only individual actions, one by one are either benevolent or not. And even deciding which is or is not is a very tricky and complicated affair dependent upon individual values. For example, I tend to see adequately feeding children whose parents are incapable or unwilling to do so as benevolent. You seem to see it as fostering dependency. I think we could agree with both mean well, we simply come to different conclusions about what is “benevolent”.

            What you have done is to pose a lot of seemingly economically stimulating actions you might take, and expect me to believe that they are likely. What if these individuals who are supposedly stimulating the local and regional economy are actually saving their wealth or spending it overseas for example. The action of spending is still the action of spending regardless of whether it is the government or a private citizen. The action of spending is just what I said it is, a purchasing decision. You may not like the spending decisions made by the government. This has nothing whatsoever to do with benevolent or non benevolent since that is in the eye of the beholder. It is still money that when spent here, builds our economy.

  1. Tia Will

    I agree with the need for very active outreach to the entire community of voters regarding the parcel tax which I strongly support. I think this outreach needs to be done now. My question is regarding optimal timing. You suggest polling after the June elections. I am wondering, why not now. Would it not be a good idea for our potential leadership to state their opinions on this issue and get the potential electoral feedback as soon as possible? Would it not be useful to for the community to be given the chance to see how closely the candidates vision for the city and how best to pay for that vision aligns with their own ?

    I realize that timing is tricky. However, you have frequently stated that the city waits too long to introduce ideas to the general voting public. I can’t help but wonder if this is not one of those times. Perhaps I am misunderstanding and that you are suggesting education now, and the only delay to be that of the polling. This would make sense in a way since it would provide a rough ( because of different sampling size and questions) “before and after” approach to the perceptions of the general electorate.

  2. Tia Will

    Barack Palin

    One other thought about your post. You state “I’ll throw a figure out for whatever good that will do” which implies to me that you don’t think that there is anything to be gained by discussing actual numbers. I disagree. I think that for an educated individual, rational decision making in the financial realm must necessarily be based on some standard. That standard must be based on some data. It is that information about which I am enquiring.
    From my perspective as someone who does not do a lot of mathematical calculation, financial or otherwise, I remain open minded about how best to determine the optimal amount of taxation. I am very interested in hearing how other people arrive at the decision that they are being taxed either too much or too little. This is informational for me and not adversarial. It is about vision and perspective, not who is right and who is wrong.

  3. Davis Progressive

    the question for palin and frankly is how do you deal with the massive roads problem we face? it’s easy to oppose taxes, it’s hard for me to give up services and the davis lifestyle

    1. Frankly

      My preference is to develop and grow the economy with some urgency… thus bringing in the tax revenue needed to fund all road maintenance. I support the sales tax increase only because I believe that there is now enough people in Davis that understand that we must develop our economy, and I believe there are enough current and future city council that will drive it.

      I think the sale tax measure will pass.

      I think a parcel tax measure will not pass.

      I synch up with most of the results of the survey, except:

      “only 37% support additional restaurants.”

      What the…? That is very interesting. I’m thinking that the average VG readers must spend a lot of time at home in front of their computer with a bowl of Campbell’s soup. The culinary sophistication of Davis in general is disappointing to say the least. You would think being the seat of the world food center, and the highest regarded oenology program in the nation, we would set the bar a bit higher than 21 Thai and 43 pizza restaurants.

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