Sunday Commentary: Independent Expenditure by Harrington Targets Measure N, Parcel Tax

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Jose Granda.  Beth Bourne.  Michael Harrington.  That’s the public face of opposition to Measure N, the extension of the parcel tax.

It’s hard to know to what extent they are working together.  Certainly Granda and Bourne are, as they have appeared at Farmer’s Market at the same table.

Here’s the argument that Harrington puts out in his postcard to Davis which he spent just under $8000 printing and mailing, according to an Independent Expenditure report filed on February 14.

Here’s the argument:

This was tough.

We have voted for every school parcel tax and school bond measure, but can’t support this one. This tax will be too much because it will increase with compound inflation adjustments forever. Unlike all previous Davis measures, this one will never expire, or automatically come back to voters for a check-in of any kind.

Unfortunately, as parents, we feel we must remain anonymous because the people pushing for this tax viciously attack anyone who even tries to have an honest conversation about how best to fund our schools.

This mean-spirited climate leaves only one choice, quietly voting no.

There is time for the school board to bring back a more reasonable proposal and voting no is the only way we can tell them to.

Other side of the post card

The problems with Measure N’s Tax:

  • This is not a tax renewal. Unlike previous Davis measures, this is a new and permanent tax with no sunset clause to require periodic check-ins with Davis voters.
  • The tax starts at $768 a year and can grow with compound increases for inflation every year.
  • Voting no gives the district plenty of time to bring a better measure back to voters in November.
  • The Yes Campaign ignores that more than 1,200 students—15% of the district—are from other cities and do not pay the Measure N tax. Our Davis taxes pay for out-of-district transfers.
  • The Yes Campaign uses fear tactics—claiming schools will be closed, teachers will be “fired,” and favorite programs will be cut, but the truth is there is plenty of time for the district to put a more reasonable ballot measure on the next ballot for voters J and find some cost efficiencies.
  • Voting no on Measure N is the best way to tell the Board of Education to bring back a better plan with a sunset date for periodic check in with the voters so there is no need for inflation adjustments without voter approval.

Analysis

The chief complaint here seems to be the fact that there would be no sunset and it has an inflation escalator.

It seems more “moderate,” for instance, than the angry letter from Imelda Granda a few days in the Enterprise.  Although the gist is fairly similar.

Granda, the wife of Jose Granda, writes, “I am utterly appalled at the disinformation coming out of the Davis School Board and the supporters of Measure N. They are engaged in a campaign of deception. They are trying to falsely sell it as a renewal of Measure H. It is not. It is a New Permanent Parcel Tax.”

The crux of her argument: “Measure H was passed in 2016 asking the voters for a ‘TEMPORARY’ measure for 8 years at $620/year. Now instead of renewing it with the same terms, amount and conditions they want to start Measure N at $768++ with increases every year with no limit. In an ultimate display of arrogance to the Davis Voters they want to make it ‘PERMANENT’ so they do not have to face the voters ever again and be accountable. Yet they are campaigning falsely calling it a renewal.”

It is not clear who, if anyone Harrington is speaking for.  For all of the complaints about how to fund schools, on a local level, a parcel tax is really the only way to access additional funding other than what is allotted through the state, which, as noted many times, disadvantages an affluent community like Davis.

Is this a tax renewal?  It renews the tax that had been passed through Measure H.  It does make changes to it—which again have to be approved by two-thirds of the voters.

The argument is that a permanent tax has no check-in and thus no accountability.  There is a point there.

The counter-argument is twofold.  First, there is always a possibility of rescinding the tax. Want to argue that is more difficult?  There is a point there as well, but the flipside is that, since 2007, every single parcel tax has received at least 67 percent of the vote and not one has failed.  That suggests that this is more a theoretical argument than one based in real world realities.

And there is a steep cost for all involved to have to run a reelection for parcel taxes every few years.

Second, the current structure calls for the district to spend $50 to $100 thousand every 4 to 8 years plus all of the energy and volunteer time and campaign donations it costs to run a re-election campaign to reach the high threshold of 66.7 percent of the voters.

Harrington adds that this tax starts at $758 and “can grow with compound increases for inflation every year.”

While technically true, it’s also deceptive.  Technically, adjusting for inflation while increasing the absolute dollar amount only keeps the tax at the same rate in real dollars.  Otherwise you actually have a tax whose spending power decreases every year and in times like we just saw, with soaring inflation, that could be disadvantageous.

He also argues that the Yes campaign is using fear tactics, claiming schools will be closed, teachers will be fired if it doesn’t pass.

That’s true.  Harrington argues that there is still time for the measure to pass and the district to put another parcel tax this time with a sunset date and perhaps no inflator.  That’s perhaps true as well.

But it is a gamble.  For one thing, with the budget crisis, the district is already having to plan for layoffs.  A failure of Measure N would likely make those far worse.  Given that DJUSD has already lost a large number of talented and young teachers, this is probably not an argument likely to assuage anyone’s fear.

Harrington also notes that 1200 students, 15 percent of the district, are from outside of Davis and thus do not pay Measure N taxes.

“Our Davis taxes pay for out-of-district transfers,” he argues.

This is misleading.  It is true that out-of-district transfers do not pay Measure N taxes—and it is also true that, under state law, the district has no way to charge them.

However, that ignores that the out-of-district transfers greatly benefit the school district by stabilizing enrollment and adding vital ADA dollars during a time when the city is failing to build housing for families with school children.

Harrington wants a better plan.  That always seems to be the reason to oppose any measure.  Usually the defeat of a tax measure results in cuts and chaos, which is not conducive to a better plan, but the voters can decide which way they want to go.

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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5 Comments

  1. Walter Shwe

    What the opponents of Measure N really want amounts to private school welfare. They intend to funnel all of the funds now going to public schools to private religious schools for conservative indoctrination. They oppose Davis students being taught anything that contradicts their conservative so-called parental rights beliefs, especially the hypocritical Moms for Liberty zealot Beth Bourne. Stop Moms for Liberty in their tracks by voting for Measure N. We now all know what havoc M4L has wrecked on the Davis community including numerous bomb threats and intimation. Stand with the majority of Davis residents that want M4L expelled from Davis.

  2. Don Shor

    The Yes Campaign ignores that more than 1,200 students -15% of the district -are from other cities and do not pay the Measure N tax. Our Davis taxes pay for out of district transfers.

    My kids were interdistrict transfer students into DJUSD because both parents worked in Davis.

    We have always paid the parcel taxes because of the property our business is on. We also pay the parcel taxes in our district of residence.

    In Davis, I served on site councils and curriculum committees and advisory councils, volunteered in their classrooms, and always contribute to school gardens at every campus that asks. All of the interdistrict parents that I met when my kids were in Davis schools had connections to Davis, through employment and extracurricular activities.

    You cannot simply shut off interdistrict transfers. Those currently here have a legal right to remain. If you wish to eliminate them, the district could only cease accepting new ones.

     If you stop accepting new interdistrict applications, the district loses money as each existing one leaves or ages out of the district. You have to wait until a couple of dozen age out or leave before you can possibly cut one teaching position. It is likely you’d have to lose several dozen before achieving staff reductions because these students are distributed across many grade levels.

    The interdistrict students provide budgetary stability to the district. Any policy change would have minimal financial benefit, in fact it would be largely adverse to the district. It is likely that it would be harmful to the students and it would certainly be very disruptive to the district as boundaries and facilities would have to be realigned.

    I like Mike and Jose and really wish they would direct their energies and financial resources to building up the Davis schools, not tearing them down.

  3. Hiram Jackson

    “Second, the current structure calls for the district to spend $50 to $100 thousand every 4 to 8 years…”

    The cost is more like a $250K to $300K charge to the school district from Yolo County Elections to run a school district election.

  4. Sharla Cheney

    I had already voted when I learned of this mailing. I voted to support the children who attend our public schools despite arguments from Beth, Jose Granda, and Mike Harrington that we shouldn’t for various reasons. I don’t think any of these three people have provided sound reasons for pulling needed funds from our schools.  Harrington would like all students who don’t reside in Davis to be expelled, before he supports Davis schools any further.  Bourne would like control over the curriculum and services offered. Granda would like no taxes at all, it seems. He opposes every tax. All three have sued the community in some form or fashion.

  5. Dave Hart

    The forces of “Me First” have always been active in our community.  I’ve long feared the day when general economic conditions would tip toward favoring their simplistic, small-minded, fearful and selfish political outlook.  Let’s hope we’re still some distance from that here.  But if they are able to motivate their tribe we shouldn’t give any of these individuals credit.  Political leadership needs to get out there and campaign much further in advance of elections than one or two months.

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