Although there were no statewide issues on the ballot last Tuesday many Californians had the opportunity to vote on local measures many of which sought approval for various taxes fees or bonds. By our count of the more than 50 tax increases on the ballot about 75 percent passed. It may surprise some but we at HJTA are not overly alarmed when local citizens choose to raise their own taxes as long as they are given the opportunity to cast an informed vote. And here is where the problem lies.
Most campaigns for tax measures receive strong support from those who will directly benefit. For example whenever a school district places a bond on the ballot it is not unusual for the construction companies who expect to contract for the work the bonds will pay for to fund expensive campaigns to guarantee their approval. It is also commonplace for bond brokers who will receive commissions on the bond sales to supply consultants to advise the district on the best way to gain voter approval. Most local tax increases also receive the political and financial support of government employee unions who clearly are a principal beneficiary of an increase in revenue.
What this means is that those wanting greater access to taxpayers’ wallets dominate the debate while individual taxpayers are often left feeling that any response is an exercise in futility. While tax promoters will see to it that slick arguments endorsing a measure appear in the ballot book all voters receive all too often taxpayers leave it up to someone else to present a counter argument and the result is that no one responds. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Illustrating the point is the e-mail message I received the day after the election from a local taxpayer advocate reporting the success of a low budge/no budget campaign in defeating a per-parcel property tax increase.
Among the keys to victory were writing a ballot argument against the tax sending letters to local papers where they could be printed in the “Letters” section and sending e-mails to friends and neighbors alerting them to the effort to increase their property taxes. Even though the taxpayer activists lacked the funds to send out mailers print flyers or yard signs they were able to convince 56.3 percent of their fellow citizens to vote “no.” Imagine what they could have accomplished with just a few hundred dollars.
Yes average taxpayers can take on city hall or any other local government entity and win. All it takes is the will and using a few basic tools most of which are free. Key to any of these efforts is as simple as preparing a good ballot argument. For those who believe that voters should hear more than just one side when it comes to tax increases I invite you to visit www.hjta.org and look under “Taxpayers Action Tools” for more tips on defeating local tax measures.
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.