Misleading On Measure E
Community College Leaders Are Purposely Misleading Sacramento Voters
By David Kline
In two full-color campaign-style mailers that claim to be “offered as a public education service,” the district mentions only good things about the proposed bond, and brags about a “long history of efficiently managing the public’s resources.”
The brochures – designed, written, printed and mailed at taxpayers’ expense – present everything in glowing terms that almost certainly were tested by consultants to promote a “yes” vote. The fawning text is accompanied by bright colors, photos of smiling students and graphics that include a “thumbs up” icon. No marketing technique was overlooked.
The “frequently asked questions” section poses and answers the question: “Why is Measure E needed?” The wording implicitly presumes Measure E is needed, because consultants apparently decided it wouldn’t sound positive enough to ask: “Is Measure E really necessary?”
Do you want to know how much the bond will increase your property taxes? One of the “educational” mailers doesn’t include a word about the cost, and the other sugarcoats the information to make it unusable for most voters.
An impartial mailer would clearly state that the bond will result in a property tax increase on every home, apartment and business in the district. The total tax increase will be approximately $1.03 billion, which is what it will take to repay $650 million in bonds plus interest.
The $1.03 billion figure comes from a tax rate statement in the official text of Measure E. In other words, the district knows the cost, but deliberately excluded it from the mailers.
Individual taxpayers would pay as much as $23 for every $100,000 of their property’s assessed value. If your home’s assessed value is $400,000, Measure E would increase your property tax by $92 per year for the next few decades as the bonds are repaid. The district makes the tax hike sound smaller by describing it as “2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.”
In addition to the mailers, the district uses its taxpayer-funded website to spread its message in favor of Measure E. If you are looking for an impartial discussion of how tax increases make it more expensive for working families to pay for food and housing, or how the existing tax climate is driving employers out of California in droves, you won’t find it in the district’s materials.
Even worse, the district put its talking points on the ballot itself. The ballot question asks voters if they want to raise money for a variety of purposes “without increasing future tax rates.” The district justifies this grossly misleading statement by saying Measure E calls for a “tax rate extension,” not an increase.
That sort of political spin has no place in a document prepared with public funds. The district should clearly state that if Measure E is approved, property owners will pay higher property taxes than they will if the measure is rejected.
Unfortunately, such behavior is not limited to the Los Rios Community College District. The Sacramento City Unified School District recently mailed out a “notice to voters” that is an obvious pitch for Measure H, a $750 million bond ($1.2 billion with interest) described as the “Classroom, Lab and Technology Improvement Measure.”
Many other school districts and local governments are up to the same tricks, spending tax dollars on “educational” materials that are anything but.
School districts and local officials probably are congratulating each other for finding ways to skirt laws against using public funds for campaigns, but taxpayers can end the celebration by voting against deception whenever the opportunity arises.
David Kline, a Sacramento native, is vice president of communications and research for the California Taxpayers Association, the state’s oldest and largest association representing taxpayers.