CO$T’s November 2018 Ballot Recommendations
As a service to our readers, CO$T’s board has evaluated key Marin board races and tax measures, as well as selected statewide propositions that are on the November 6 ballot. We recommend the following votes:
Local Tax Measures:
NO on AA: 30 year renewal of Transportation Authority of Marin ½ cent sales tax
YES on J: 4 year $149 annual supplemental parcel tax for Tam Union High School District
State Propositions Affecting Taxpayers:
YES on Prop 6 – repeals SB-1 gas/car tax
NO on Prop 5 – expands ability of 55+ home sellers to transfer prop 13 base property value
NO on Prop 10 – permits local rent control
Qualified NO on Bond Props 1,2,3,4 – CO$T didn’t delve into the merits of projects funded by these 4 bond measures, but expresses concerns about how the additional obligations will be met. Bonds aren’t free. Since 2000, voters have approved over $31 billion in California general obligation bonds PLUS additional billions of special purpose bonds…. without any specifics of where the money comes from. Taxes will go up or other services get cut.
Candidates for Local Boards ENDORSED BY CO$T:
College of Marin – Professor George Rothbart
Marin Municipal Water District –Joby Tapia and Greg Knell
Tam Union High School – Kevin Saavedra and Dan Oppenheim
Novato Unified School District –Jim Shroyer
Keep Reading to Learn Why We Advocate the Above Votes……..
NO on AA – Transportation Authority of Marin 1/2 cent sales tax renewal:
CO$T authored the Argument Against Measure AA that is printed in your Voter pamphlet (link here). We object to AA’s 30 year term, which significantly exceeds TAM’s ability to forecast future transportation trends, needs, and technological changes. 30 years without another popular vote is too much leash; and it encourages other agencies to do the same. To woo voter support, TAM has a Christmas list of possible projects; there’s no coherent traffic congestion relief vision. AA also uses Marin sales tax proceeds to seed mega projects (Novato Narrows and 101/580 exchange) that primarily benefit Sonoma and East Bay commuters. The existing ½ cent TAM sales tax doesn’t expire until 2025, so current projects and services aren’t at risk if you vote No. TAM should come back with a 10 year sales tax measure and a more detailed, coherent plan for what it will fund.
YES on J – Tam Union High School District $149 4-year supplemental parcel tax:
Although CO$T typically opposes parcel taxes as unfair to small condo and home owners, we are making an exception based on urgency (pending insolvency of the district), changes in district leadership, and cost reduction efforts already underway. A YES vote gives Tam Union a 4-year window to achieve a better balance between spending, educational services, and reserve rebuilding necessary for long-term fiscal stability. The existing $294 annual parcel tax plus the proposed supplemental tax expire in June 2025. A combined renewal (replacement) tax measure is likely on the 2020 ballot. Voters will then have the further opportunity for an up-down vote on the district’s priorities and progress. Click here for further background on CO$T’s AA endorsement.
NO on Prop 5 – property tax transfer – 55+ sellers retain prop 13 valuation basis.
This is a special interest initiative backed by the realtor industry. Per the independent legislative analyst, prop 5 passage ultimately causes schools and other local governments to lose $1 billion annually. The result will be cuts in public services or tax hikes for the broader population, to make up for the tax advantages given away to a select group. What prop 5 does is make it possible for homeowners over age 55 to buy a different house of any size, any price, anywhere in the state, repeatedly, while protecting most or all of the original prop 13 base value. Prop 5 expands property tax basis protections to those upgrading to higher value home, contradicting the premise that special treatment of older homeowners was to facilitate downsizing. Prop 5 also expands the potential for an inherited multi-generational tax entitlement for wealthy families passing along homes with low tax bases; the shortfall will be subsidized by other less fortunate taxpayers.
YES on Prop 6 – repeal SB-1 gas/car tax
CO$T has a long record of opposing SB-1, which raised gas taxes and car registration fees substantially, and codified perpetual further increases. This is a regressive tax and becomes more harmful in an economic downturn when incomes decline but the gas tax and registration fees keep rising. Drivers fund 100% of this car tax; yet much of the proceeds go to a potpourri of non-road projects. California doesn’t lack for taxes purporting to fund roads and transportation; but there’s a long history of squandering money on excessively expensive projects and diverting transportation funds. We have a spending problem, not a lack of tax revenue.
NO on Prop 10 – permits local rent control
Rent control has proven, in multiple places, to exacerbate the very problems it seeks to solve. It raises rental prices over time, while increasing the gap between haves (those in rent controlled properties) and have-nots (those who will need to pay even more for new market-rate rentals). This occurs because older rental property supply falls (converted to non-rentals via sale or condo transaction). And developers, burned by reneging of former government promises not to enact rent control, become wary of investing in new projects; this reduces the supply of new properties and raises market-rate rents.
College of Marin Board – CO$T ENDORSES George Rothbart
Six candidates (including 2 incumbents) are running for three seats. Rothbart stands out from the crowd. He is an independent thinker and an independent board vote (in contrast to the self-declared slate of incumbents Wanden Treanor and Diana Conti, plus allied newcomer Suzanne Crow). Having earned a PhD in Physics from Stanford, Rothbart founded and continues to run a successful tech business that provides tools to study the environment. Prompted by a desire to give back, Rothbart teaches mathematics part-time at COM. Rothbart’s signature issue is the college’s weak enrollment and graduation/certificate rates: he has specific ideas of what COM could do differently to ensure programs suit current and future students’ needs. The fact that Rothbart’s main income is not from COM resolves any concerns about a faculty member being on the board. Indeed, Rothbart’s passion for his students and understanding of the academic issues is a major reason to vote for him.
MMWD board- CO$T ENDORSES: Joby Tapia and Greg Knell
From its inception, CO$T has been a vocal critic of Marin Municipal Water District’s repeated rate hikes and poor spending priorities. Average people’s water bills have risen 40%-60% since 2016; the current board has pre-approved further rate hikes totaling 14.5% for the next 2 years. CO$T is pleased to back fiscally responsible challengers committed to changing all that (see our detailed endorsement rationale here). MMWD has squandered money on $135,000 administrative assistants; large PR staff; and expensive consultant studies exploring wildly unpopular programs (a desal plant and pesticide use in the watershed); meanwhile the fuel load of flammable dead vegetation accumulates dangerously throughout the watershed. Excessive spending and poor priorities generate further rounds of board-approved rate hikes on which ratepayers have no vote …. other than refusing to reelect unresponsive incumbents. Tapia is challenging Cynthia Koehler in Division IV (Mill Valley and Sausalito); Knell takes on Jack Gibson (Division I – Sleepy Hollow, Terra Linda, Northgate, Santa Venetia).
Tam Union High School Board- CO$T ENDORSES Kevin Saavedra and Dan Oppenheim:
This is a five member board overseeing Drake, Redwood, Tamalpais, San Andreas and Tamiscal. There are 3 open board seats and 4 newcomers competing for them (no incumbents are running). Saavedra and Oppenheim stand out as bringing much-needed financial acumen and discipline to the board, which will have to steer the district back from the brink of insolvency.
Saavedra has extensive professional experience in the financial industry and serves on a committee tasked with identifying budget cuts for Tam Union; he demonstrates a keen understanding of the district’s challenges, including the financial underpinnings of the unfunded pension liability.
Oppenheim also has financial industry experience and an understanding of Tam Union’s challenges. He has attended many board meetings and engaged in the issues. Oppenheim views the district’s current financial mess as owing in part to a failure to properly budget for foreseeable circumstances, e.g., rising enrollment and pension obligations. He calls for better board oversight of multi-year budgets.
Novato Unified School District Board – CO$T ENDORSES Jim Shroyer:
Five candidates (including 2 incumbents) are running for three seats. Shroyer’s finance degree and business experience will be valuable to NUSD, which has been deficit spending and now has dangerously low reserves. Shroyer wants to refocus both operating and capital spending on the most urgent educational priorities, rather than frills. Having exhausted taxpayers with 2016’s $222 million bond Measure G, NUSD isn’t likely to be able to shore up its finances with a new parcel tax. Shroyer’s financial discipline and focus are essential at this juncture.
CO$T encourages candidates and proponents soliciting CO$T’s endorsement to contact us at least 60 days before any future election date.
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers Urges
Vote YES on Measure J
Tamalpais Union High School District
$149 Annual 4-Year Supplemental Parcel Tax
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers encourages voting YES on Measure J, a supplemental $149 annual parcel tax. Measure J would expire in June 30, 2022, simultaneously with the existing $294 annual parcel tax. Both escalate 3% annually. Funds support southern Marin high schools Redwood, Tamalpais, Drake, Tamiscal, and San Andreas.
While it’s unusual for a taxpayer group to endorse a parcel tax, CO$T’s board believes the reasons for doing so in this instance are compelling… and meet many of our Sensible Tax criteria:
Urgent need. Tam Union is operating under a Marin County Office of Education warning of potential insolvency resulting from operating deficits and falling reserves. Without Measure J, Tam Union will have to cut up to an additional $5 million in annual expenses (beyond significant cuts that are already underway).
Modest levy. The $149 supplemental amount is not large by Marin standards. The tax won’t solve Tam Union’s financial woes. It will provide breathing room to make less Draconian cuts to school programs.
Short leash. Both the existing and proposed supplemental tax expire in 4 years. We expect the district to put a renewal measure before voters in 2020 (leaving time for a second try if voters say No). By then, we’ll know a lot more about the how well new district leadership is balancing costs, educational priorities, and the need to rebuild reserves.
New management. The prior Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer have departed and been replaced via the promotion of two well-respected district veterans. We give them a preliminary vote of confidence. New leadership should have a chance to reset spending priorities without the extra burden of budget cuts even sharper than those already on tap.
New board. Three of the five incumbent board members are retiring, leaving three openings to be filled via the November ballot (there are four candidates). Two current board members (whose terms expire in two years) are staying, providing some continuity and knowledge. Let’s see what the new board, which may include some newcomers with financial acumen, can deliver.
Streamlining. New initiatives are already underway: Top management positions consolidated; more shared services; supplies cut; reduced cafeteria offerings; cancelled additional portable classrooms. Next moves being studied.
CFAC. Tam District seems receptive to our recommendation of forming a small Community Financial Advisory Committee of financially astute district residents to explore best practices and strategies to improve the district’s long-term financial health. CO$T believes it’s important to get advice from a team of independent experts.
Transparent. Tam Union’s online parcel tax information provides fair disclosure of the factors contributing to the district’s financial challenges, including rising enrollment and state-mandated pension contributions. Tam Union consistently does a superior job of keeping the broader community informed and involved. All board meetings are video taped and posted to the district website. On-line board minutes and agendas are complete, including all relevant staff reports, presentations, and documents.
Inclusive election. Tam Union intentionally chose a general election for Measure J. This ensures that the largest number of voters will weigh in on the parcel tax (rather than a special all-mail off-cycle ballot in which district parents and tax-exempt seniors comprise a large share of the ballots cast).
CO$T has some reservations about endorsing Measure J:
Regressive. Parcel taxes hurt small condo and home owners, who pay the same amount as large apartment complexes and malls. The increasing number and amount of parcel taxes (and bond measures tied to property value) are a significant factor in Marin becoming unaffordable to existing home owners. CO$T continues to urge that school districts work with legal advisers and state legislators to clarify schools’ ability to use fairer, alternative parcel taxes (based on per square foot or per dwelling unit).
Insolvency risk. The district plans to use Measure J supplemental parcel tax revenues to avert further cuts in academic programs, on-campus services, and perhaps employee benefits. We would like to see a portion of the $149 supplemental tax directed each year to gradually rebuilding badly depleted reserves. Tam Union is very vulnerable to becoming truly insolvent during the next slowdown of the economy and real estate property taxes. It’s prudent to start putting money back into reserves now.
Disappoint some CO$T supporters. It’s unusual for a voter-taxpayer group to endorse a tax. That said, we never pledged to oppose every tax. We believe in Sensible taxes that are truly necessary to support vital services. We’ve laid out the criteria and believe that four short years of Measure J is a reasonable compromise within that framework.
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers endorses
Joby Tapia and Greg Knell for
Marin Municipal Water District Board
CO$T’s directors have repeatedly voiced concerns about MMWD’s dramatically escalating water rates, excessive personnel costs, and failure to prioritize fuel load reduction in the district’s vast watershed. It’s time for change.
Knell and Tapia are two independent candidates (not a slate) with some similar appeal. Each has extensive financial and budget experience. They vow to bring much-needed fiscal discipline to the board and an increased emphasis on fuel load reduction in the watershed.
MMWD’s entrenched incumbents aren’t likely to challenge the status quo. If reelected, Jack Gibson’s reign would extend to 28 years and Cynthia Koehler’s 18. Tapia is challenging Koehler in division IV (Mill Valley and Sausalito) and Knell is challenging Gibson in division I (Sleepy Hollow, Terra Linda, Lucas Valley, Marinwood, Northgate, and Santa Venetia).
To effect change at MMWD, it’s essential to elect new directors. Even if you don’t vote in division I or division IV, the election’s outcome affects you! Defeating an incumbent takes money. Make a difference! Donate to Tapia and Knell.
More Reasons to Vote for Tapia, Knell, and Change for the Better….
-Pause the rate hike spiral. Moderate-use residents’ water bills have increased 40-66% since 2016, with 2 more rate hikes totaling 14.5% teed up for July 2019 and 2020. Tapia and Knell contribute fresh eyes and financial restraint to the budget.
-Bring financial experience on board. Knell has served 4 terms on the San Rafael school board. Tapia has run a multi-hundred million dollar real estate business. Both have a keen eye for numbers and demonstrated commitment to fiscal discipline.
– Prioritize fuel load reduction. Knell and Tapia will redirect MMWD’s spending priorities and methods, to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in our watershed. Most of MMWD’s vast lands haven’t had any fuel load reduction in many years. It’s a tinderbox. Wildfire is the biggest risk facing Marin’s population, water quality, and ecosystem. .MMWD’s board irresponsibly endorsed Marin County’s plan to acquire the San Geronimo golf course in order to “re-wild” it, adding to Marin’s already-huge wildfire danger. (CO$T supports a ballot initiative requiring voter approval for any change to the golf course’s land use.)
– End MMWD Directorship as Lifetime Sinecure. MMWD board members’ total compensation can reach nearly $40,000 annually for what’s a very part-time gig. This is wildly excessive relative to most other Marin boards. Board members frequently phone in; some board meetings last only a few minutes. Ceasing to pay MMWD Directors’ family health insurance would reduce costs and encourage Directors to step aside to make room for those with new ideas and skills.
Learn more and donate to Joby Tapia and Greg Knell campaigns at:
Past Election Endorsements
CO$T Endorses Toni Shroyer for Supervisor
Kentfield, CA: The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers — a nonprofit non-partisan advocacy group protecting the rights and interests of Marin taxpayers – recommends voting FOR Toni Shroyer, candidate for Marin County Board of Supervisors District 5 (Novato).
CO$T’s leadership group unanimously endorses Toni Shroyer for Marin County Supervisor District 5. Here’s why:
CO$T believes Ms. Shroyer will do a superior job of putting taxpayer-voters’ interests first. She understands it is time for the County to live within the means of existing residents. As a realtor, Ms. Shroyer sees many long-time residents driven out by local tax increases they can no longer afford. Toni believes County fiscal discipline is critical to protecting the ability of Marin’s middle class to continue to live here.
Ms. Shroyer is an independent thinker. Expect her to question staff reports and the parochial interests of other supervisors. Not beholden to any special interests, Ms. Shroyer vows to decline donations from any parties with business that requires a Supervisors’ favorable vote.
During the 12 years Shroyer’s opponent has sat as Supervisor, the County’s budget has soared, amid spending priorities that are increasingly out of synch with regular folks’ needs and ability to pay. Meanwhile, Toni’s worked with and for Novato citizens, earning a living, raising a family, and experiencing first-hand the challenges of infrastructure deferrals and cuts in services vital to Novato.
Positive change is imperative! Marin’s current Supervisors almost invariably vote as a unanimous bloc, sometimes contrary to what the majority of their constituents want. Representing constituents often takes a back seat to protecting the institutional status quo and special interests – as was egregiously demonstrated in Supervisors’ vote to squander taxpayer funds on the wildly unpopular purchase of San Geronimo golf course in order to “re-wild” it.
Ms. Shroyer’s opponent, incumbent Judy Arnold, has been Supervisor for 12 years, 12 years of voting for other Supervisors’ pet projects, rather than for the voters’ best interests. CO$T believes it’s time for a change.
Toni Shroyer’s election will be an important victory for taxpayer-voters throughout Marin.
CO$T urges Novato residents to vote for Shroyer, and taxpayer-voters outside District 5 to contribute to her campaign at https://tonishroyer2018.com/
For more CO$T election-related positions on tax measures and candidates, visit CostMarin.org
CO$T is hosting the Marin District Attorney Candidate Debate on Thursday May 3 at San Rafael City Council Chambers at 7:00 pm to 9:00. This is a free event and we urge the public to attend.
About CO$T: The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers advocates on behalf of Marin taxpayers, who deserve a seat at the table. CO$T has over 500 engaged supporters; organizes participation in public hearings; hosts educational events and public forums.
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers recommends voting YES ON MEASURE G, San Rafael Cannabis Industry Tax.
Overview: CO$T’s Board of Directors gives the thumbs up on Measure G, which imposes a gross receipts tax totaling up to 8% on San Rafael businesses involved in producing, testing, distributing, and selling cannabis. The measure would raise money to oversee this nascent industry, mitigate any impacts and provide additional funding for the City’s priorities.
San Rafael will set the initial tax rates well below the 8% cap for a 2-year period and change them if warranted, at 2-year intervals.
San Rafael’s proposed initial rates are within the ranges of those charged by other California cities.
Relatively Benign: While pension stresses underlie pretty much every new tax and fee, Measure G seems relatively benign in its financial impact on citizens. It is not a sales tax per se, but a tax on the cannabis industry. The money goes into the general fund, though San Rafael says it will use the tax proceeds for administering the program, City safety agencies, and street repairs. CO$T also encourages San Rafael to dedicate a portion of the revenues to substance abuse programs.
Doesn’t sunset, but may adjust: As a general principle, CO$T dislikes new taxes that don’t sunset, as is the case with Measure G. However, we view Measure G as more like a business license fee, which would not be typically tied to any particular use or time frame. Further, San Rafael plans periodic rate adjustments (see below) that are effectively a review of the tax. Measure G is not permanently immutable. It is capped on the upside but not on the downside.
Because cannabis is a commodity, retail prices will be set by market forces. The impact of the City’s tax on the competitive viability of future local San Rafael businesses in the cannabis delivery chain should be monitored by the City to ensure that, once established, those businesses do not become noncompetitive with those in other jurisdictions solely because of the level of the taxes this ordinance would apply. If the tax is too high, San Rafael’s cannabis businesses could fail, which also deprives the city of tax revenues.
Early outreach is a good idea. San Rafael reached out to CO$T to review and express an opinion on Measure G. CO$T greatly appreciates the City’s doing so, as this gave ample time for CO$T to evaluate the tax measure and for the City’s responses to CO$T’s follow-up inquiries. CO$T encourages jurisdictions to initiate even earlier outreach to a wide range of taxpayers and their representatives – e.g., before polling and final design of a tax measure. That helps ensure that future tax measures are optimally configured for both taxpayer-voters and jurisdictions.
CO$T’s Board ENDORSES Voting YES on
Corte Madera Measure F (sales tax increase)
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers — a nonprofit non-partisan advocacy group protecting the rights and interests of Marin taxpayers – recommends voting YES ON MEASURE F (Corte Madera Transactions and Use Tax Ordinance of 2018).
Costs Corte Madera residents less. Measure F terminates a $98 Storm Drainage Property Tax, replacing it with a ¼ cent increase in the existing ½ cent sales tax. This swap results in a net decrease in Corte Madera residents’ annual taxes, while providing the Town with much-needed additional revenue (from higher non-resident sales tax revenue at malls and other businesses). Non-residents pay about 90% of the Town’s total sales tax.
Infrastructure spending promised. The current Town Council says it will apply much of the revenue to critical infrastructure, such as levees, sidewalks, and roads — all of which are challenged by storm water and rising sea level. Residents must trust that future Councils will continue to direct Measure F funds to infrastructure, as the revenues go into the general fund and can legally be used for any purpose. .
Doesn’t sunset. Large infrastructure projects require a stable long-term revenue stream. Measure F, like many municipal sales tax measures, doesn’t sunset. CO$T would prefer that it did. We believe voter-taxpayers’ best interests are served by each taxing jurisdiction coming back to the voters periodically to affirm spending priorities and seek, if needed, renewal of any tax. That ensures future Town leaders spend wisely. Lack of a sunset date is NOT compensated for by the right of citizen groups to mount a hugely expensive tax recall ballot initiative.
Pension progress. CO$T’s opinion was favorably swayed by Corte Madera’s proactive measures in working with labor groups to lower its pension costs. Pension liabilities’ drain on Corte Madera’s general fund is an underlying cause of this –and pretty much every other jurisdiction’s — add-on tax measure. The alternative is service cuts.
Residents vs. Nonresidents. Non-residents currently contribute about 90% of Corte Madera’s sales tax revenue, by shopping at the Town’s significant retail businesses. Non-residents can’t cast ballots on Measure F. They can vote with their feet by shopping elsewhere (in lower-tax cities or having purchases shipped to their address if it’s in a lower-tax locale). Including state and county-wide sales taxes, Measure F will bring Corte Madera’s total rate to 9.00%.
Kudos on Outreach. CO$T commends Corte Madera Town Council and Town Manager for extensive community outreach and transparency on Measure F. This swayed many constituents and interest groups, as well as members of CO$T’s leadership group.