If public attention is being drawn to national politics and the presidential race, there is a group of local officials who are thrilled. They have plans for the contents of taxpayers’ wallets and they would prefer to fly under the radar. The less voters pay attention, the greater the chance they will be able to pass local school bonds, which raise property taxes. Voters need to be alert. If past general elections are any indication, we will be facing several hundred local school bonds and additional tax measures in November.
August 12, is the deadline for officials to approve local measures for the November ballot. Consultants — usually paid by firms that expect to do business with the school district once a new bond is approved — advise local education officials not to publicize the bond election to the entire community, but to target only their supporters. This means running a stealth campaign, communicating only with administrators, the local teachers union, the PTA, and parents who have children in school. Part of this strategy is waiting until the last possible minute to approve the new bond measure, giving potential opponents less time to organize and respond.
Once a bond measure is approved, critics may have no more than a week to submit an argument in opposition. And this timeline is critical because the number one tool for defeating a bond measure is the argument against that will appear in the ballot pamphlet.
It is somewhat ironic that school boards work so hard to keep voters in the dark when the vast majority of taxpayers are supportive of education and favor students having decent facilities in which to learn. However, ever since a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires got together in 2000 and spent almost $35 million on a successful campaign to pass Proposition 39, which lowered the longstanding requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass school bonds to just 55 percent, the goal of providing good value for taxpayers’ dollars has all but disappeared.
In spite of, and perhaps because of, efforts by the wealthy elite to stack the deck against local taxpayers, these bonds deserve to be carefully evaluated, and if they fall short, opposition is justified. Voters have a right to know that a bond will place a lien against homes for as long as 40 years to guarantee repayment that, once interest is calculated, will cost at least double its face value.
HJTA recommends determining in advance if your school or community college district is considering placing a bond on the ballot by calling school district administrative offices. They should be able to tell you the agenda for upcoming board meetings. Upcoming board agendas should also be posted on the district website.
If you learn that a bond will be considered, alert friends and neighbors to the fact that property taxes may be going up and encourage them to join you in attending the local board meetings at which the bond is discussed. Take advantage of the public comment portion of the meeting to express your concerns and objections.
If your school district decides to place a bond on the ballot, start by contacting the clerk of the school board to obtain the written rules covering requirements for submitting ballot arguments for publication in the voter information pamphlet that will be sent to all voters in the district. This argument should focus on the facts, including the total cost of the bond and the fact that it will raise property taxes for homeowners, and renters are likely to see increases in rents if the measure passes. It is certain that this is information that will go purposely unmentioned by bond promoters.
Once an argument has been submitted, taxpayers can begin work on getting the word out to voters in the community. These measures can be defeated and hard work pays off.
For more information on opposing local bond and tax measures, please visit the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association website.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.