Three local government entities are testing voters' sour mood this fall with proposed tax increases.
The Hughson and Waterford school districts have bond proposals on the Nov. 2 ballot -- Measures H and I, respectively. Riverbank proposes to raise its transient occupancy tax rate from 4 percent to 9 percent; it appears as Measure G.
These three are among more than 100 bond and tax increase proposals around the state, according to a count by the California Taxpayers' Association. As reported on The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert, there are 29 school bond issues and two local government bonds, seven proposed increases in hotel taxes, 12 city or county sales tax hikes, 16 utility tax boosts, six increases in vehicle registration fees and one new business tax.
Six cities want to impose taxes on marijuana dispensaries. Our communities aren't pushing that, because they don't want marijuana dispensaries, period. Also notable: Three Bay Area cities are proposing increases that would boost their sales tax rates to more than 10 percent.
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All Californians will be able to register their opinions on one tax matter. Proposition 21 proposes to increase vehicle license fees $18 to raise money to maintain and improve state parks.
Do any of these tax increases stand a chance in this horrible economy, amid rampant distrust of government?
I think it will depend on the proposal, the political bent of the area voting on the measure and just how well the proponents explain it. I think, I hope, citizens will evaluate each measure on its own merits.
Measure G, for instance, would affect virtually no Riverbank residents because the transient occupancy tax is a charge for tourists and other visitors -- and Riverbank has only one old hotel anyway. It seems the City Council put it on the ballot as a pre-emptive strike -- so if or when the city does have a major motel, its transient occupancy tax will be competitive with those of neighboring cities. Modesto's rate is 9 percent; Oakdale's is 7 percent.
No one, not even the city, bothered to write an argument for or against Measure G. It could be a genuine test of what voters think of a ballot item simply because it includes the word "tax."
Hughson school leaders are asking voters for approval to issue $21 million in bonds to pay for new and upgraded facilities at five campuses, including a new science building at the high school and a multipurpose building to be shared by the middle school and Fox Road elementary.
Waterford wants to build a high school auditorium and do upgrades at all its schools under an $11 million bond proposal.
The basics are the same for the two districts -- and as they have been for most school bonds in recent years. The measures need 55 percent voter approval to pass, and the districts promise oversight by independent citizen committees. No money will go to teacher salaries. Neither proposal has drawn organized opposition.
As an individual voter and as a member of The Bee's editorial board since 2003, I've favored nearly all school bond proposals over the years. But I think we've learned some things from recent experiences with bond measures in Modesto and the Yosemite Community College District and with special taxes in Empire and northeast Modesto's Village I. So, if I were a voter in Waterford or Hughson, I would want to know:
• How much will the bond cost in total -- counting principal and interest? How many years will I be paying higher taxes to pay off the total cost?
• How much am I already paying for previous bond measures? When will those bonds be paid off?
• What is the priority list for the projects? Can you accomplish all the items you put in your proposal? Or is it just a wish list, with the hopes I'll find something on it I like?
• Will the citizen oversight committee have any influence in the decision-making?
• Are school trustees regularly asking questions about how money is spent in the district? Or does the emotional appeal of "serving children" supercede the idea that schools need to be efficient as well as effective?
We're likely to see more local tax proposals next year. The Modesto City Schools board retained a firm to gauge community support for a parcel tax that would be used to raise operating revenue (not to build anything). Dennis Snelling, director of business services, said the polling is complete, but he hasn't seen the results. A report is expected to go to the board next month. The city of Merced also plans a survey on sentiment about tax increases. If either goes forward with a tax proposal, it wouldn't be until 2011 or possibly beyond.
Sly is editor of the Opinions pages. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2317.