Up until this week there has been no sign of organized opposition to Measure G, the $198 per year parcel tax. But yesterday evening Mary McDonald sent out a press release hoping to change that. But on Tuesday, the election is three weeks away.
Is it too late to change it? We will have to see. To date, though, there has been almost no organic opposition to the measure – few letters, little activity. As we have previously noted, in 2011, the parcel tax measure that came closest to not passing, Measure A, had tremendous controversy and pushback for weeks prior to the election.
This year there is a whole lot of nothing.
But on top of the late entry for the opposition, the worse news for the opposition is their argument is not only late, but probably not all that compelling.
Moreover, it’s factually wrong.
Mary McDonald, who sent out the press release, appears to agree that “our excellent teachers deserve higher salaries.” The problem is that she does not appear to understand school finances and how they work. That is going to make it even more difficult to gain traction here.
She says that “the good news is that funds for this purpose are already available! The generous parcel tax (Measure H) of $620/year, with annual increases, we voted for in 2016 does not expire until 2024 and the school bond (Measure M) we voted for in 2018 lasts for 30 years.”
This is a faulty argument.
First of all, the school bond funds facilities, not instructional money. Many want to argue that we should spend money that is going for facilities and move it over to cover teacher salaries. It might sound reasonable. But just as you can’t sell or rent a property and use it for instructional money, you can’t move facility money to instructional money.
The problem is that state law does not agree that money is money. Money that is designated for facilities cannot by law be used in the classroom.
Thus you cannot by law use the money from Measure M for teacher salaries. That’s school financing 101. So that money is not available at all for raising teacher salaries. Ms. McDonald just made a huge mistake.
Parcel tax money is more complicated. Parcel tax money is nominally general fund money. It can be used for instructional money. But the trick there is that the money designated by the parcel tax has specific purposes and cannot moved around.
There is a work around, however – you can pass a new parcel tax at the same rate and put it to teacher salaries rather than the current uses.
But you end up with the same problem we have now. We can certainly take existing money in the district and give it to teacher salaries – however, that will require other cuts to offset it.
The problem is that you end up pitting teacher salaries against popular programs like counselors, music, art, librarians, math and science and, of course, the seventh period day.
And that is the main point missing from her counter-argument. She does not seem to recognize that, yes, the school district can raise salaries, but it has to come from programs. Nowhere in this does she mention programs.
If you go all the way back to 2008, the reason why we passed a second parcel tax in the first place was that when the schools needed cuts, the community did not want to see key programs cut or schools closed. The alternative was another parcel tax and that parcel tax passed overwhelmingly with more than 70 percent of the vote.
The community spoke. The question now is whether the community will continue to speak out in favor of programs and salaries.
In addition to not understanding basic school finances, Ms. McDonald appears to make a tactical error. She’s making an anti-tax argument on a school tax measure in the heart of blue country.
People keep wanting to raise the specter that we have too many taxes. In the abstract, we seem to be getting close to the line, as about 30 percent of respondents seem to agree with them. But when push comes to shove – are they going to vote to deny teachers a salary increase or force the district to cut programs?
The rest of the argument is a basic anti-tax argument. Measure G is unfair. She’s right, it is unfair. The state law is unfair. That’s because of Prop. 13. Nowhere of course does she mention Prop. 13, which she undoubtedly supports. Parcel taxes are in fact regressive, but they are the only permissible way to raise school funding.
Here are her arguments: “Measure G parcel taxes are regressive,” “Measure G raises taxes on thousands of acres of farmland,” “Measure G exempts school district employees,” “Measure G exempts even part time district employees who will do not have to pay these parcel taxes, “Measure G taxes cannot be deducted on your income tax return,” “Measure G never expires; It increases taxes yearly for generation upon generation of Davis homeowners.”
Measure G is regressive – as we have pointed out, a parcel tax is what the district can legally use to raise instructional money. So we are basically arguing that we don’t like the color of the sky.
The farmland argument is a new one. Not sure how much that resonates with the public. In reality, it doesn’t raise taxes on acres of farmland, it raises taxes on each parcel – however, that farmland within the district is divided.
Two of her points object to the exemptions that were put into place. The district saw this as a way to give a slight increase in salary to district employees.
I do want to address the issue of Measure G never expiring. It is true there is no sunset date for the tax measure. That means in six or eight years the district won’t have to come back with a new parcel tax to be approved by the voters. That means, to end it, someone would need to put it on the ballot and pass a vote to repeal it.
It is a bit misleading to say, however, that it increases taxes yearly. It has an inflator to keep up with inflation, but otherwise the value of the parcel tax would decline over time. In constant dollars that is not an increase.
Basically she is making the standard anti-tax argument in liberal Davis. Might it work this time? I doubt it. Certainly not in three weeks. Certainly not without a lot more resources than they appear to have.
It doesn’t take a lot to defeat parcel taxes, but I don’t think this is going to do it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting