COST weighs in re Tam Union 2nd try at Parcel tax Measure

TUHSD is eyeing a 2nd try at a parcel tax renewal/increase in Nov 2020 or a 2021 special election. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It appears Tam Union’s initial instinct is contemplating doing just that.

Tam Union relies heavily on parcel taxes to supplement funding for its operations. All its current parcel taxes expire June 30, 2022. Replacing this revenue stream is an important priority. Unfortunately, Tam Union didn’t seek to simply replace the existing funding. It sought instead a renewal that included a big proposed increase in the parcel tax… its second big hike in only 16 months.

Voters soundly rejected Measure B on the March 3, 2020 ballot.

TUHSD’s taxpayer-paid consultants debriefed the board at its April 16 meeting, with key points in its analysis highlighted in their Measure B debrief PowerPoint TBWB, which ran the campaign, blamed Measure B’s failure to bad timing vis a vis macro factors (taxpayer mood; stock market decline). There was no mention whatsoever of issues specific to measure B, e.g., stiff local resistance to unaffordable, repeated tax increases demanded by a district facing steeply declining enrollment.

The debrief also failed to note that the board had plowed ahead with measure B despite poor advance polling and clear signals from CO$T that it would oppose the tax increase as unfair, unaffordable, and unnecessary.

In failing to acknowledge the local factors that doomed Measure B Tam Union is moving quickly toward a second parcel tax measure try that could very well fail. The consultants and the board are focusing mainly on timing tweaks aimed to select a more favorable electorate. The board is already spending more money on consultants and polling slated to start in mid-May or early June.

It appears they completely missed the message voters delivered in March.

It is imperative that Tam Union’s board take the lead in developing a risk-averse strategy to secure sufficient taxpayer funding to avoid marching off its fiscal cliff in 2022. That means an affordable parcel tax measure that is sized to the district’s falling enrollment and equitably distributed across taxpayers.

Below is the April 14, 2020 letter CO$T sent to Tam Union’s board.

Letter to Tamalpais Union High School District Board re Parcel Tax Renewal

From CO$T Directors Carsten Andersen, Kingston Cole, Laura Effel, Doug Kelly, Bruce Vogen, Mimi Willard

April 14, 2020

In the March 2020 election, Tam Union failed in its effort (Measure B) to renew and substantially increase its existing parcel taxes, all of which expire June 30, 2022. It is now incumbent on the board to move forward with a parcel tax renewal plan that has broad community support and a strong probability of passage.

CO$T is concerned that TUHSD might move forward hastily to again seek a substantial increase in its parcel taxes with the same deficiencies that we have opposed previously. We urge the board to start with a clean slate. Forget about expensive consultants, polls, and trying to force an unpopular proposal. Engage the community instead in developing a consensus proposal. We would be happy to discuss how to achieve a taxing mechanism and financial underpinning that is fair, justified, and acceptable to the community.

In pursuing Measure B, Tam Union’s board regrettably made a high risk gamble on its ability to pass a parcel tax that did not poll well with voters. The district wanted a $190 increase in the parcel tax but its own polling showed tepid support: 66.6% with a 3.7% margin of error. This translated into a mere 50/50 chance of clearing the 2/3 approval hurdle needed for passage.The final vote fell well short of that.

The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers opposed Measure B because (1) the $190 increase was unaffordable, coming right on the heels of a $149 increase (2)the rising enrollment rationale given for a sharply higher parcel tax was nonsensical in light of the district’s own projections of steeply declining student count; and (3)a flat parcel tax is especially unfair to owners of small homes and now meets stiff resistance.

None of the above considerations is in the PowerPoint presentation prepared by your consultant for the April 14 board meeting. You must engage in a candid assessment of what’s gone wrong so far in order to plot a path to successfully renewing the parcel tax upon which you heavily rely. The current economic situation and resultant constituents’ anxiety and wariness of higher taxes compound your challenge.

TBWB presents tonight options for timing of a second try to renew the parcel tax, including November 2020 and two special election dates in 2021. CO$T strongly urges you not to pursue a special election. It will be highly controversial. Low-turnout elections have been used by TBWB and other consultants to select a small, favorable electorate. It is also an expensive option. Choosing a special election – and/or recycling a rejected proposal — will embroil the district in unneeded controversy from the get-go.You cannot afford to fail twice.

CO$T has made clear its opposition to tax measure special elections as inherently undemocratic. In our Sensible Tax Criteria posted on our website, COSTMarin.org, we state:

Except in rare instances of extreme urgency, CO$T will automatically oppose any tax presented to voters at a time other than a statewide election.

CO$T understands the importance of securing an adequate and predictable funding stream for TUHSD that is, at the same time, fair and affordable to the community. We are amenable to engaging in a dialogue with that in mind, including a joint meeting with Senator Mike McGuire and Senate staff to resolve any reservations the district has regarding legality of a per square foot parcel tax for Tam Union; a per square foot tax is more likely to secure support from district taxpayer-voters. We are also amenable to helping the district develop an 8-10 year forecast of its staffing and financial needs as enrollment declines.

COST weighs in re Tam Union 2nd try at Parcel tax Measure