Local Tax Election Results:
Voters Decide Fate of 49 Local Tax Measures; Modesto Mayor Criticizes Constituents for Not Supporting Tax Hike

Voters decided the fate of 49 local tax measures in November 5 elections, including nine sales tax increases that were approved.

Of the 13 sales tax hikes on the ballot, nine passed, one failed, and three remain too close to call based on preliminary vote counts. If the remaining ballots do not change the current outcomes, two of these sales tax measures will pass.

General bonds did not fare well with the voters. Of the four bonds on the ballot (for two healthcare districts, a recreation district and a fire district), two failed badly, and the other two are too close to call based on the early numbers.

School bonds, however, were very successful. Of the eight school bonds on the ballot, six were approved. Five of the victories – and both losses – were in wealthy districts in the San Francisco Bay Area and Monterey.

Many parcel taxes also won approval. Of the 13 parcel taxes on the ballot, seven were approved, and two are ahead in the vote count but are still too close to call. Voters appeared to be supportive of parcel taxes to raise funds for school districts, but more skeptical of parcel taxes to fund fire districts or general city services. Of the five school parcel taxes on the November 5 ballot, three were approved with support from more than 71 percent of the voters, and two remain too close to call but were ahead in the early counts.

Three utility users’ taxes (UUTs) were on the ballot, and one was approved – to reduce utility taxes in the town of Portola Valley (San Mateo County). Voters gave 85.6 percent support to Measure Q, which continues an existing UUT at a 4.5 percent rate, and increases the rate to 5.5 percent in 2018. This will result in utility users paying less, because the UUT rate would have increased more if the measure had failed. Absent Measure Q, the rate would have increased to 5.5 percent in 2014, when a previously approved temporary reduction is set to expire.

For updates on these elections, and information about other local elections held this year, see CalTax’s online list of 2013’s local tax measures, which is updated as official results are announced.

News from some of the local tax elections:

Modesto Mayor Criticizes Constituents for Not Supporting Tax Hike. In Modesto, the fate of a 1 percent sales and use tax increase remains up in the air, with 50.9 percent of the electorate opposed, and some ballots remaining to be counted. City officials, however, said they expect the measure to fail, and have started discussing where to cut spending to balance the municipal budget.

Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh took a shot at his constituents, saying, “I felt the community would have stepped up to have better police and a safer community, and I was wrong.”

A city-funded survey also was wrong. Earlier this year, the city agreed to pay a consultant up to $35,000 to conduct a survey, and the Merced Sun-Star reported that the survey “showed strong support for a half-cent sales tax for public safety and a 1 cent general tax for public safety, parks and roads, and other purposes.”

The city hired the Lew Edwards Group to conduct the telephone survey, and that firm contracted with Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates to do the survey.

The Sun-Star continued: “Officials insisted the survey … was not a poll measuring support for a sales tax. But a California State University, Stanislaus, political scientist and a public administration professor who reviewed the survey questions … say it was just that. ‘It seems that the purpose of the survey was to try out different explanations of the (tax) measure and to gauge potential support/opposition among various voter factions,’ wrote Larry Giventer, a professor emeritus in the department of political science and public administration. Public administration assistant professor Umar Ghuman said the questions appear to be framed in such a way as to make a tax increase the only solution. He said people are not likely to oppose a question that asks them to maintain essential services.”

The newspaper also noted that the 400 respondents to the survey do not represent the demographics of the city, and instead skewed heavily toward older, non-Spanish-speaking residents.

City officials attempted to keep the information about the survey questions and demographics secret, but were forced to disclose it to comply with a California Public Records Act request filed by Modesto businessman Ed Persike. Mr. Persike said he was upset that the city had not released this information because the Measure X campaign, which was funded primarily by police and fire unions, apparently had access to the data because it had hired the Lew Edwards Group. Mr. Persike believed it was wrong that those promoting the tax had information that the city was denying others. “I just got angry,” he said. “I got angry at the deception, at the business-as-usual attitude.”

The No on Measure X campaign called itself the “Tough Love for Modesto” campaign, and operated on a budget of just $1,800. (Sources: The Modesto Bee, November 6; Merced Sun-Star, October 19.)

Stockton Leaders Declare Victory in Close Sales Tax Election. While the result of Stockton’s election on Measure A is not yet official, city leaders believe the unofficial final vote of 52.5 percent will hold up, and that the city’s sales and use tax rate will increase 0.75 percentage points (from 8.25 percent to 9 percent) effective in April. Voter turnout was just 24 percent.

The tax is a general tax, requiring a simple majority vote for passage, but city officials have maintained that 65 percent of the revenue will go to the Police Department for what the city has dubbed its “Marshall Plan on Crime.” The city has indicated that the other 35 percent will be used to pay municipal bankruptcy debts.

After the election, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said he plans to expand his police force by 120 officers, to a level never before seen in the city’s history, but added that it will take time to hire all the officers.

Former state Assemblyman Dean Andal, who opposed the measure, predicted that within four years, the city will be broke again. In addition to the new personnel costs, he said, the compounding pension costs that Stockton didn’t tackle in its bankruptcy will devour the new tax money.

City Councilman Michael Tubbs said he prefers to call Measure A not a “tax,” but an “investment” in Stockton’s future. (Source: Stockton Record, November 7.)

Mayor of Tiny Grand Terrace “Devastated” by Voters’ Rejection of Utility Tax. Walt Stanckiewitz, mayor of the 3.5-square-mile city of Grand Terrace (San Bernardino County), is not happy that his constituents soundly defeated a utility users’ tax on the November 5 ballot. “We are devastated,” he said. “We are numb.”

Measure C, which would have imposed a 5 percent UUT for six years, received less than 40 percent of the vote, with 760 votes in favor and 1,141 opposed.

Supporters said the tax was needed to fund city services. After the election, City Manager Betsy M. Adams said she is taking steps to start cutting services, including closing the city’s two largest parks, closing City Hall all but two days a week, and cutting power to the city’s senior center.

Opponent Doug Wilson had been chairman of the city’s Planning Commission for 21 years, but resigned from that post to lead the No on Measure C campaign. “The vote reflected the feelings of the people who are taxed and assessed to death,” he said. “There’s a lot of empty pockets out there.”

Mayor Stanckiewitz said the election results were contrary to what people told backers of Measure C as they talked to residents and did door-to-door campaigning. “Either they were not being honest or they didn’t show up to vote,” he said. (Source: San Bernardino Sun, November 6.)

November 8, 2013

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