Editorial

Multiple measures create challenge for campaigners

letters@thetribunenews.comJune 30, 2014 

A slew of local tax measures is headed for the November ballot that, if passed, will raise millions of dollars to fix roads and classrooms; update outmoded technology; and keep our expensive infrastructure from crumbling beyond repair.

Agencies appear to have done their homework; they’ve conducted surveys that show strong support for the measures in the various communities.

That’s good. However, there’s still the possibility that when it comes time to mark their ballots, voters could change their minds — especially if they’re faced with multiple measures that would raise their tax liability by several hundred dollars. And be assured, homeowners will do the math and figure out exactly how much they’ll owe.

That was exactly the reason that agencies used to avoid putting multiple measures on the same ballot. But with so many needs — and with the state of California continuing to rely on cities, counties and school districts to fund capital improvements — agencies often have no choice but to overlap their requests. That’s understandable. If the needs are dire, it’s better to ask for assistance and risk being turned down than to allow roads and buildings to deteriorate to the point where they’re even more expensive to fix — if they can be repaired at all.

With multiple tax measures on the same ballot, though, that can make campaigning more of achallenge on a couple of fronts: raising donations and attracting volunteers, and winning voters’ support.

Rather than trying to outdo one another in playing on voters’ sympathies, at least a couple of agencies are contemplating cooperative cam paigns. Supporters of Cuesta College — which is considering a countywide bond measure — are talking about possibly joining forces with campaigners for San Luis Coastal, which has already decided to put a $177 million bond on the November ballot.

That strategy has merit: It avoids an us-against-them battle; it could cut down on campaign expenses; and, if it reduces the number of campaign fliers, phone calls, etc., it could even relieve voter fatigue.

Of course, it will ultimately be up to each agency — whether it’s Grover Beach, Cuesta College or the city of SLO — to make a strong case with voters.

Here is some of the information campaigners should be prepared to share:

• Tell us why you need more money from taxpayers. That may involve explaining changes in federal and state funding — that’s fine, but please describe it in lay terms that everyone can understand.

• Tell us how you plan to use the revenue. It doesn’t have to be down to the penny, but we don’t want a long wish list of what you would like to do. We want to know what you realistically expect to accomplish.

• For those agencies seeking an extension of an existing tax, tell us how the revenue collected so far has been used. If you were unable to accomplish what you had set out to do, explain why.

• If you have accountability measures built in to your request — such as a citizens advisory committee or periodic progress reports — that’s good. If you don’t, why not?

We’ll be looking at each measure in greater depth in the weeks leading up to the November election; we urge voters to do the same.

AGENCIES THAT ARE PLANNING TO PUT A TAX MEASURE ON THE BALLOT, OR ARE SERIOUSLY CONTEMPLATING IT

The city of Atascadero is putting a half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot. The tax would be in effect for 12 years and, while it would be a general tax, officials say revenue would be used primarily for road work.

The Atascadero Unified School District is asking voters to reauthorize $58 million in bonds to complete major upgrades at 10 schools. Voters approved a bond measure in 2010, but because of the sluggish economy, property taxes have not been rising as fast as expected. If the measure passes, property owners will pay more initially — an average of $47.50 more per $100,000 of assessed value — but over a shorter period of time.

Cuesta College is considering a bond measure of varying amounts for several projects, including replacement of portable buildings that will soon be out of compliance with state code. The Board of Trustees will hear various options for bond packages July 9.

The city of Grover Beach is close to putting a bond measure of up to $48 million on the ballot to fix deteriorated streets. That would cost property owners $165 a year per $100,000 of assessed value.

On Tuesday, the Pismo Beach City Council will discuss whether to ask voters to extend a half-cent sales tax measure.

In San Luis Obispo, the City Council will decide Tuesday whether to put an eight-year extension of Measure Y — the halfcent sales tax approved in 2006 — on the ballot. Without the extension, the sales tax expires next year.

The San Luis Coastal Unified School District is placing a $177 million bond on the November ballot to finance major upgrades of three high schools. If it passes, it will cost property owners $49 a year per $100,000 of assessed value.

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