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Election Results:
Voters Decide Fate of 13 Parcel Tax Measures

In 13 parcel tax elections held May 3, voters approved eight, rejected two, and left three too close to call based on the initial reports from election officials. If the election night results don't change as outstanding ballots are counted, the final tally will be nine measures approved and four rejected. (For CalTax's complete table of 2011 local tax measures, including results of these and other elections and information about upcoming elections, click here.)

Seven of the eight measures that are clearly approved so far are in relatively small, wealthy districts in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Parcel taxes require a two-thirds vote for passage. This threshold gives property owners additional protection, in recognition that property taxes – especially those with a single rate that applies to mansions and cottages alike – are inherently inequitable because they are not based on ability to pay, and because they add to the cost of the basic necessity of shelter.

In San Mateo County, the principal of a school in the Jefferson Union High School District said she is "deeply disappointed" in the voters' rejection of Measure C, a $96-per-year parcel tax. "I would have thought that our community would have realized how important young people are to the community and how dire a situation this is and come to action to save the schools," she complained.

The Bay Citizen reported that parcel taxes were approved in most of the districts that used tax dollars to pay campaign consultants. The newspaper detailed how one school district used tax dollars to support the campaign for tax increases:

"Officials in the Los Altos School District credited consultants for the district's parcel tax victory on Tuesday, which squeaked past with support from 67.34 percent of voters. The district used $55,000 from its general fund to hire pollster EMC Research, ($18,500); campaign consultant TBWB Strategies, ($27,000); and law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe (up to $9,500).

"At their behest, the district stepped up efforts over the last three weeks, with parents and other volunteers phoning likely voters to prod them to send in their ballots. The six-year $193 per parcel tax will bring in $2.3 million a year, helping to soften impending budget cuts from the state.

"'The consultant team was absolutely instrumental,' said Margot Harrigan, a longtime member of the Los Altos School District board. 'They had a strategy, they were very engaged in the results we wanted to get. They looked at what parents and the community cared about.'"

(CalTax: This sort of campaigning with tax dollars often takes place at the local level, in violation of the spirit – if not the letter – of election laws. Local officials also have the power to write the ballot titles and summaries for their own measures, and many have abused this power by skewing the language to favor the "yes" side. These distasteful campaign tactics should be addressed before the state considers expanding the taxing authority of local governments.) (Sources: Foster City Patch and The Bay Citizen, both May 4.)

May 6, 2011
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