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WatchSonoma Watch

Voters willing to hike taxes despite tough economy

By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Even in lean times, voters in Sonoma County were willing Tuesday to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay for school improvements and help bail out Santa Rosa’s budget.

Six out of seven Sonoma County school bond measures won approval, and a quarter-cent sales tax increase in Santa Rosa also passed easily.

Analysts said that local voters are willing to hike their taxes if they see a clear benefit.

“If a measure is focused enough so that the local voter can see this money can only be used for these things, and I like those things, they are more receptive to it,” said Andy Merrifield, a Sonoma State University political science professor.

“People are willing to tax themselves if they think they can see a reason for it,” said Brian Sobel, a political consultant and former Petaluma city councilman. “People, even if stressed financially — and a lot are — if given a good case for spending money for helping out, they’ll do it.”

Voters countywide were unreceptive to a proposed annual $10 vehicle registration fee to pay for transit, roads and school transportation safety, voting no by almost 58 percent. A measure to fund California parks with an annual $18 registration charge passed in Sonoma County, but failed statewide.

In Sonoma County, a half-dozen school districts were able to convince voters to increase their property tax bills to pay for more than $107 million in construction and maintenance projects, including solar installations and classroom improvements.

The general obligation bond measures are for brick-and-mortar projects and can’t be used for teacher or administrator salaries.

Bond measures passed by the 55 percent threshold in school districts in Cloverdale, Sonoma Valley, West Sonoma County, Bennett Valley, Forestville and Twin Hills. Only in Piner—Olivet did a bond measure fail.

“Voters who vote for school bonds see a direct correlation between that action and property values, quality of life, and they see it as local control,” said Carl Wong, Sonoma County’s superintendent of schools.

He said it is all the more remarkable that school bond measures succeed because they often are introduced around the same time property-tax bills arrive.

“The public confidence in public schools, I think, still prevails,” he said.

In the Bay Area, school bond measures have generally done well, according to Sobel. He said the campaigns tend to be “really grassroots” with parents and teachers actively supporting the measures.

Meanwhile, classroom sizes have increased, teachers are fewer and the school year has been shortened. Even though the measures may not directly alleviate any of those things, there is a sympathy factor.

“There is a huge soft spot in people’s hearts for education and people understand, given everything going on in Sacramento, that there just aren’t the resources. That’s a message that has hit home loud and clear and benefits school bond measures,” Sobel said.

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Jane Bender said she was inspired to wake up early Wednesday and see almost all the school bond measures had passed.

“Our future is the kids. Our economic development is an educated workforce. It really made me feel good,” she said.

But the ballot measure that Bender was most directly involved with was Measure P, which 57 percent of Santa Rosa voters approved.

It increases the sales tax by a quarter percent and will add about $6 million in revenue annually to the city’s general fund over the next eight years. It will increase the sales tax rate in Santa Rosa to 9.5 percent.

Supporters said city budget woes are expected to worsen and it will help prevent draconian cuts and maintain police and fire protection and gang prevention programs.

Opponents of Measure P argued that local government needs to do more to live within its means and said proponents were using scare tactics.

While the tax revenue will go to the general fund, Merrifield said the measure was well-worded so that the message was that the money will be used “to fight crime, reduce gang violence and protect the fire stations.”

There was no active campaigning around Measure P, but Bender said polling in advance showed it would pass.

Voters, she said, “look out and see (street) lights are out, parks are turning brown and this is unacceptable. They think, ‘This is the solution, vote for this.’”





5 Responses to “Voters willing to hike taxes despite tough economy”

  1. A Gurwitz says:

    Way to take the lead on higher taxes. While the rest of the country foolishly voted for lower taxes and limited government candidates you continued on the path that has been working so well for you.

    Seriously though, if Sonoma county goes bankrupt, will the state bail you out? If CA goes broke, do you seriously think that the newly elected Congress will bail you out?

    Texas’ slogan “like a whole different country” California is like a whole different world.

  2. WESTERN CLUEBIRD says:

    In all of the mailers and e-mails and phone calls I got (and there were many) regarding the measures for solar for schools in bold type it claimed that with passage of the measures, our taxes would not increase.

    I don’t want to hear any more sob stories about teacher shortage, supply shortage or equipment shortage. I don’t want to hear any complaints about program cuts or overcrowded classrooms due to lack of funding.

    We already spend nearly half of our state budget on schools, yet there are always cries of lack of funding.

    What happened to the 26 billion dollars that Woolsey rushed back from recess to pass “for the schools”?

    I will no longer be willing to have my kids participate in any fundraising, I will not give the asked for “donation” of $200.00 at the beginning of the year, or the other financial donations I have made to the schools- they can get the money from the savings that they claim will come from solar power.

    It will help the schools to partially escape from the tremendous increase in our energy cost that will go into effect due to AB 32 not being delayed.

    How will it help my kids to put more debt onto their already enormous mountain of debt that we have placed on them with our wasteful, excessive spending?

    The solar will not start paying for itself for many years- will the voters then get their investment back-NO! By then we will be asked for many more bailouts for more nonessential programs, and told that it can’t be taken from the wasteful school breakfast/lunch program or any other place for the teachers or supplies because it is from a “different pot”.

    Meanwhile, the unfunded pension liabilities keep rising above the allready unsustainable level and no one is doing anything about it except asking for more, more, more. ENOUGH ALLREADY.

  3. Mary says:

    This is another example of public unions power and a look at the future of California under Brown. The massive amount of public union money pumped into this election in California is staggering.

    It clearly had a big impact locally. I wonder how many votes for raising the sales tax came from union households? The unions are all about raising taxes not cutting spending. Will this sales tax increase solve Santa Rosa’s budget deficit?

    The problem, there isn’t enough tax money in the bank to cover the bad checks being written by the government. Continued state and local government spending will continue. Business will continue to flee and take the jobs offshore and out of state. Where do you think the state and local economies will go?

  4. Graeme Wellington says:

    The more heart-tugging the plea, the more certain you can be that you are being manipulated.

    Please just read your sample ballot people. It says right on it about how much the various, propositions and measures and bonds are going to cost.

    Veterans, children, puppies, kittens, and so on get money from lots of sources beyond the local taxpayer. Enough already. Don’t you know there’s a national revolution going on about this?

  5. Alex says:

    Fools and drunks. The voters are so easy to hoodwink. All you have to do is say children and get what you want. Seriously, we already pay taxes for this…it is called budget! Do you go to your boss at the end of the year and say I spent like a fool and now need more money…do you think he will just give you more?! Don’t be an idiot..say NO to Taxes and open the books to see where the money is being wasted…not open your checkbooks. Take for example, the Junior College is a bike-friendly neighborhood; however, the city council especially Wynsocky and Jacobi who feel that spending a million dollars for Bike Boulevard is the right thing to do. How dare they ask for more taxes, cut salaries, and cut back services…only to break something that is not broken?! The neighborhood has signed petitions telling them to end this drawn out experiment….Jacobi who was pushing hard on it is no longer in office because of this foolish spending and government pork project. If Gorin sides and pushes with it, I promie you a recall. Don’t be a fool…a million dollars and counting still. END THE HUMBOLDT BIKE BOULEVARD…Demand it!