Try to follow this stream of events carefully. Last Thursday, Davis School Board Member Alan Fernandes announced an effort to put a majority-vote parcel tax on the ballot. In order to even get it on the ballot a lot of things have to go right, including the almost ridiculous collection of 6000 signatures in a three- to four-week period of time.
If that sounds like a rush job – that’s because it is. Mr. Fernandes is well aware of the political dynamics in the state and knows that he has a very small window to do this. If he doesn’t get a measure on the ballot by the end of July, he may not get a chance to get a majority-vote parcel tax on the ballot at all.
That is because of a Supreme Court ruling last August. Under Prop. 218, passed by the voters in 1996, it required that two-thirds of voters approve local ballot measures to raise taxes for specific projects. But by a 5-2 Supreme Court ruling, the court ruled that the proposition doesn’t apply to such citizens’ initiatives, but instead only to government efforts to raise taxes.
That is why Alan Fernandes as a private citizen had to put the measure on the ballot, not the school board. And to make things weirder, he had to do it through the city, rather than the school district, which apparently lacks the authority to put such a measure on the ballot.
But it was a loophole that figured to be closing. Alan Fernandes himself warned on Thursday that there was a ballot initiative that would close that loophole. It was expected to qualify – it actually has enough signatures to do so – and if it qualified it is expected to pass. But Mr. Fernandes told the Vanguard, in a separate conversation on Thursday, he thinks by that getting the measure approved simultaneous to the approval of the law, it would be allowed to stand since the old law still ruled the day prior to the proposition becoming law.
While it was likely that a citizen group would challenge the legality of the law, he believed as long as the taxpayer’s association didn’t back such a lawsuit, the law would be upheld in a court.
In short, this had a narrow window to pass and would basically be a one-time measure.
But the winds of change are blowing. The Bee reported on Sunday that a deal might be cut whereby “California would ban its cities and counties from creating taxes on soda and other sugary drinks for more than a decade if the Legislature approves a budget trailer bill introduced Sunday.”
What does this have to do with the parcel tax and the ability to put a majority-vote parcel tax on the ballot?
The Bee reports that this language would be “part of a developing deal between organized labor and business groups to remove from the November ballot a proposed measure that would make it harder to raise state and local taxes.”
Senate Bill 872, the Bee reports, prohibits new local taxes on “groceries,” such as “carbonated and noncarbonated nonalcoholic beverages,” through the end of 2030, including any that may pass this year.
As an editorial in the Bee notes, “Alarmed by local sales tax hikes on sugary drinks in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, the beverage industry this year threw its weight – and about $7 million – behind a November ballot initiative that would dramatically raise the threshold for local tax measures. That in turn has alarmed local governments, including the city of Sacramento.”
The initiative, pushed by the beverage industry, “would ask voters to require a two-thirds supermajority for approval for any new local tax, tax increase or tax extension. If voters approve, the proposed constitutional amendment would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, wiping out any local tax approved this year with less than a two-thirds majority.”
The Bee writes, “That means revenue for all sorts of local needs would go by the wayside in California, just so the beverage industry can get a reprieve from pesky public health efforts to limit the obesity, tooth decay and other ills linked to sugary soda.”
The Bee editorial notes: “Compromise is an art, we suppose, and Big Soda’s sweet deal is probably worth the trouble its initiative would otherwise cause cities. But make no mistake: This preempts a public good to line an industry’s pockets.”
So how would this impact Davis? It would be the end of efforts for a soda tax for the next 12 years, for one thing. That’s bad news for those who believe that this represents a public health threat.
The good news, though, is it means that the both the city and school district could seek citizen initiatives that would have majority-vote parcel tax allocations on them.
If that’s the case, Alan Fernandes will have a lot more time to consider a parcel tax that could be put on the ballot. There are advantages to waiting, and the biggest is that, instead of having maybe three weeks to collect 6000 signatures, he could put the measure on for a special ballot next spring and have a full three months to do it.
It would also allow the school district to pass its facilities bond separate from a potential $350 a parcel tax, making the passage of both more likely.
It seems a foregone conclusion then that this deal will happen. We should find out for sure by the end of the week.
—David M. Greenwald reporting