LAUSD’s impossible Measure EE ‘senior exemption’

In its flailing effort to impose a $500 million dollar annual parcel tax on the property owners who live within its boundaries, the Los Angeles Unified School District has mailed out — at taxpayer expense, of course — a letter advertising how seniors can apply for an exemption to the tax.

This is the latest desperate attempt by LAUSD to fool voters into approving Measure EE. But, like other tactics of LAUSD’s political campaign, it is bound to backfire.

This latest campaign mailer adds to the increasing controversy surrounding Measure EE. Already under a cloud of litigation for violations of the Elections Code and the Brown Act, the negative press on the parcel tax proposal continues to mount. But with every new scandal, the district doubles down on its effort to secure voter approval over the objections of community groups, taxpayers and a nearly unanimous business community.

Back to the exemption. Homeowners in the district received the letter directly from LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner entitled “Important Measure EE Senior Exemption Information for Homeowners Age 65 and Older.” Accompanying the letter was an application form that senior homeowners could fill out and submit by July 1st (less than a month after the election).

As far as anyone can determine, this is the first time in California history that an application for an exemption to a parcel tax has been mailed out by a school district, prior to the election approving or rejecting the tax being held!  By sending out what is clearly designed to be a campaign mailer disguised as “information” about an exemption, the district is attempting to assuage the concerns of seniors who will be subject to the tax.

The problem for the district is that the application for the exemption is itself very intimidating and bound to make seniors suspicious of the district’s intentions. For example, the information the District seeks from applicants is far more intrusive compared to that sought from seniors by other school districts.

The district’s exemption application asks for the homeowner’s address, date of birth and Assessor’s parcel number. That is typically all the information that is needed to determine eligibility for a senior exemption. But the district doesn’t stop there.

The application also demands a photocopy of the applicant’s driver’s license or passport.  It also demands that the homeowner prove they are the primary resident by providing a copy of their Social Security check, insurance policy or utility bill.  Finally, a copy of the current property tax bill must be submitted. But even all this may not be enough, for the application says that “an in-person submission may be required.”

All this additional information is wholly unnecessary.

The county assessor already has a list of everyone who claims the homeowners’ exemption (meaning they live in their home and pay property tax).  It would be simple for LAUSD to use that list and cross-reference with other government lists to confirm age eligibility. Why the invasion of privacy and risk of ID theft?

It is also important to remember that, whatever the district represents in a thinly disguised campaign mailer, the only legally binding language is in the resolution which placed the measure on the ballot.  That language, unlike all the other provisions in the resolution, makes the availability of the senior exemption permissive — meaning it could be withdrawn in the future. For seniors justifiably wary of both the parcel tax and the intentions of the district, there is an excellent way to avoid the tax without having to surrender their privacy. By voting no on Measure EE and defeating it, seniors won’t have to worry about the tax at all.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.