With voting scheduled to occur on Tuesday – the question locally will largely come down to Measure G. Will Measure G pass? While a two-thirds vote is a high hurdle, I believe that Measure G will narrowly pass for a number of reasons.
First, while there has been a slight uptick in the number of opposition letters in the last two weeks after the announcement that they were launching their official campaign – overall the yes side has an overwhelming advantage of at least a 3 to 1 margin.
Along the same lines, as we have noted a number of times, the one close call, Measure A in 2011 was proceeded by a prolonged period of controversy and we just don’t see it.
Third, and this is probably less important, the few arguments against Measure G that we have seen have had serious factual errors – supporting taxes that cannot be used for school funding and more.
I pulled the last three opposition letters to Measure G in the Enterprise to get a sense for who is writing and what they are arguing..
The first thing I noticed was who the three were: Janet Zwahlen – a past parcel tax opposition leader who was a litigant on the lawsuit. Jose Granda and his wife Imelda. Jose Granda has opposed pretty much every parcel tax and ran for school board several times, finishing relatively low.
While not definitive, who is writing the letters is suggestive that the pool of opposition is not expanding.
Looking at the arguments…
Janet Zwahlen focuses on several points.
First, she argues: “It imposes parcel taxes that never expire and increases every year forever, for generation upon generation.”
It is misleading to suggest that the taxes increase year after year. What the tax does is have an escalator to keep pace with inflation. So the number increases, but if they calibrate it correctly, it simply moves with constant dollars.
“But, those who benefit (all school district employees), even those who make $200,000 a year, and even those on part time jobs are exempt. Is it fair that they can vote for a parcel tax that they do not have to pay?”
Parcel taxes are definitely unfair and there will be a large amount of people who can vote for a parcel tax who won’t pay it. But everyone who makes that argument conveniently forgets that the tax system addresses this point by requiring a two-thirds vote. In essence, it takes two yes votes to equal one no vote.
She adds: “Since landlords no doubt will pass on the tax to renters…”
Except that in multi-family dwellings, each parcel still only pays $200. So if you have 100 units, each unit would be responsible for about $2. Even in rental home, $200 over a year period is less than $20 per month – and given that rents increase about $70 to $100 per year, Measure G is likely not to impact most renters.
Jose Granda writes: “In the past, I ran for the Davis School Board on a platform of fairness and responsibility to the taxpayers; 9,253 Davis voters joined me in opposing Measure E and others. This means that not everyone in Davis agrees with the idea of unfair parcel taxes.”
While true, he is ignoring three key facts here. First, parcel taxes have all passed by more than two to one margins. Meaning that while not everyone agrees, the vast majority do. Second, Jose Granda finished poorly in the two races he ran. And third, Jose Granda actually underformed the no on the parcel tax.
He later adds: “I ask those 9,253 voters who believed in me, as well as my opposition to these unfair practices, to go out and vote no on Measure G.”
That’s rather ironic, because those 9253 voters were not enough to defeat the parcel tax in previous years.
Finally, Ms. Granda argues: “It is disingenuous. How can it be that those who benefit from the measure (all school district employees) do not have to pay the parcel tax?”
That seems like a strange argument. Much of the time, the people who benefit directly from taxpayer assistance are not the ones paying the taxes.
She adds, “It is not just for teachers. Measure G makes Davis homeowners and renters pay salary and pension increases for all school district employees!”
“Measure G does not improve instruction. It is an abuse of the good heart of Davis homeowners, who in the past have supported temporarily parcel taxes to help with state budget shortfalls. Measure G has no time limit, it is forever and it has no limit on the cost to you either. It increases every year and without a time limit, the accumulative amount is unlimited. It is not fair to ask homeowners and renters to pay for the salary increases and pensions of all district employees at an increasing rate every year and forever. This makes Measure G the most expensive parcel tax ever in Davis history.”
There is a lot to unpack here. Again, the number increases, but it is calibrated to inflation. The voters always have the option of voting to repeal the parcel tax.
She argues in several places, “Throwing money like this does not make better staff, better teachers or better schools.”
That’s a debatable point. There are several factors here. First, there is at least a reasonable chance that without Measure G passing, the district decides to make cuts to program. Second, the alternative is that they allow teacher compensation to continue to lag which when more senior teachers retire, could result in a large number of teachers leaving.
That doesn’t guarantee that schools will get worse – but certainly that is not helpful.
For the most part the arguments against the tax remain focused on the inherent unfairness of parcel taxes, the size and cost of the parcel tax, and things like exemptions and the fact that it doesn’t expire.
At this point, we just don’t see a lot of opposition to the measure coming out of the woodwork and it looks like it should pass – albeit narrowly.
—David M. Greenwald reporting