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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

Repaying Taxpayers For Their Generosity
School officials show themselves to be ingrates...

[Jon Coupal] 8/13/04

On March 2 of this year taxpayers in the Moraga School District in Contra Costa County did a generous thing. They agreed to dig more deeply into their pockets to fund a $325-per-houshold school parcel tax.

The vote was so close on Measure K that it required a recount to verify that a two-thirds vote had been achieved so that the new property tax could be collected.

Parcel taxes have a number of detrimental features. Because parcel taxes affect all parcels of property equally, and residential property makes up the bulk of most districts, the burden falls disproportionately hard on homeowners. Additionally, these taxes make no distinction regarding ability to pay. Because of these negative aspects, the two-thirds vote for passage, required by Proposition 13, is well-justified.

However, voters in this small school district responded to urgent pleas and agreed to accept the downside of a hefty parcel tax to raise $800,000 and forestall threatened layoffs.

So it is easy to understand taxpayers' outrage when they learned just three months later that their school board had Okayed a 31 percent pay raise to Superintend Rick Schafer. Shaefer currently makes $127,000 per year. The pay increase will mean that he will be paid $167,000 by 2005-06.

Both teachers and taxpayers have expressed anger, asking what will go unfunded so that the superintendent can make an additional $40,000 annually.

Unfortunately, this kind of largess with taxpayers' money is not unusual. But it is clearly symbolic of how out of touch some elected officials can be.

The issue is not whether or not Mr. Shaefer is doing a good job -- and it should be noted that he did not request the raise -- but the disrespect with which officials treat the taxpayers and the hard-earned dollars they provided.

Just months after crying there would be doom and gloom if the taxpayers did not pony up, the school board thought nothing of giving out a 31 percent raise. Did one of the board members stop to calculate that 123 homeowners would be paying the extra $325 to support the board's generosity to their top administrator? Chances are, voters thought they were paying to prevent teachers from being laid off and to provide classroom materials. If they had it to do again, would their vote be the same?

This is an example where the Section 3 initiative power provided by Proposition 218, authored by the Howard Jarvis taxpayers Association, can serve as an effective accountability mechanism when local government officials make stupid spending decisions after local voters approve a tax increase.

Section 3 allows local taxpayers to place an existing tax back on the ballot by gathering signatures of voters equaling 5 percent of those who voted in the last election for governor.

Just 66.8 percent supported Measure K in March, and it is unlikely voters would have approved a substantial tax increase had they known that the superintendent would receive this kind of enrichment.

With a section 3 initiative, voters would have an opportunity to reconsider all or part of the tax increase in light of the spending decisions made after the tax was approved.

Sometimes, just the threat of a Section 3 initiative can cause local officials to act more responsibly. In 1997 when officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District wanted to spend the proceeds of a just passed school bond on the Belmont Learning Center -- a huge high school complex being constructed on an abandoned oil field that was leaching toxic substances -- a Section 3 initiative to repeal the property tax increase authorization was threatened. This seems to have contributed to the board's decision to relent on its intention to spend bond proceeds on the Belmont project. CRO

copyright 2004 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association


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