NEWS: NEWS ALERT: With business groups allied against it, L.A. parcel tax faces big hurdle

Posted April 2nd, 2019

With business groups allied against it, L.A. parcel tax faces big hurdle

They sign ballot argument and plan $4 million campaign to kill it in June.

Three Los Angeles area business associations have signed the official ballot argument opposing L.A. Unified’s sizable 12-year parcel tax on the June 4 ballot — compounding the district’s challenge of getting a two-thirds majority required to pass it. The opponents include the influential Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Parcel tax backers had hoped that business community leaders would take no position, if they couldn’t support a parcel tax. Instead, opponents are promising a vigorous $4 million campaign to defeat Measure EE, said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, based in the San Fernando Valley.

Waldman, L.A. chamber President and CEO Maria Salinas and Tracy Hernandez, founding CEO of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, also signed the ballot statement, along with Jon Coupal, president of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and former South Gate Mayor Bill DeWitt.

The chamber initially said it would support a standard parcel tax, charging every property owner in the district the same dollar amount. But the organization has followed through with its threat to oppose what the school board adopted: a parcel tax based on the square footage of buildings on a property – an approach that would substantially shift the tax burden from homeowners to commercial properties, large apartment buildings and industrial sites with large buildings.

Using temperate language in her most recent blog post to explain the chamber’s position, Salinas noted the Chamber’s past support for the district’s construction bonds and other initiatives, adding, “We understand the financial picture at LAUSD and the importance of committing resources to provide a quality education for all our students; however, Measure EE is not the answer.”

But the ballot statement that she signed, which will be mailed to all voters in the district in late April, is harshly critical of the district.

It reads in part: “LAUSD WASTES OUR MONEY. District bureaucrats and defenders of the failed status quo want taxpayers to bail out a school district with a history of red ink, appalling education results, declining enrollment, runaway administrative hiring and exploding retirement and health care costs. REFORMS MUST COME FIRST.”

Waldman said he wrote the initial draft of what was a document by consensus.

Measure EE is projected to raise $400 million to $500 million annually, with charter schools receiving about 20 percent, based on their share of student enrollment. The school board, which unanimously voted for the parcel tax, says it will need the money to hire teachers in order to lower class sizes, add counselors and school nurses and pay for raises the board agreed to in the contract signed with teachers in January following a six-day strike. Without the additional revenue, the measure says, there will be “harmful cuts” to programs, probable layoffs and larger class sizes in 2021-22.

The school board quickly moved forward with a proposed parcel tax both to ensure that revenue will start flowing in 2019-20 and to capitalize on strong public support in polling for striking teachers’ demands.

In her statement, Salinas cited the board’s choice of an off-year election, which usually draws a small turnout — “We believe more voters is better for democracy” — as well as haste in making its decision as reasons for the chamber’s opposition. “The school board approved the 16 cents per square foot parcel tax without giving consideration to our suggestions or getting community input,” Salinas wrote.

But Yes on Measure EE’s chief strategist and spokesman Yusef Robb dismissed those reasons as a rationale to oppose a more progressive parcel tax. “At a time of record profits and tax breaks for businesses, these organizations opposed to Measure EE explicitly do not want to pay their fair share,” he said. “They want the owner of a million-square-foot skyscraper to pay the same as the owner of a thousand-square-foot home.”

According to an analysis by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, most homeowners in Los Angeles and the two-dozen communities in the district will pay between $100 and $450 per year. The median tax would be $235 for an owner of a 1,450-square-foot home.

The Yes on Measure EE campaign also is promising a vigorous campaign, with United Teachers Los Angeles and other unions behind it, as well as Garcetti, who stepped in to help negotiate the teachers’ contract and whose signature is first on the official ballot statement favoring the tax.

“Under most circumstances, a $4 million opposition campaign would be hard to overcome,” said Dan Schnur, a professor in political communications at USC and UC Berkeley. But the school board and Garcetti, he said, “may be thinking they can extend the post-strike mood of the public to Election Day.”

Asked how to do that, Schnur’s answer was simple: “You buy a lot of ads.”


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