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    News / Perspective

    Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Ass'n Warns Against "Parcel Tax" Of Type Council May Vote In Early January To Put On April LB Ballot

    (December 23, 2005) -- The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has warned against "parcel taxes" of the type the LB City Council may vote in early January to put on the April LB ballot.

    In website text not written specifically about the proposed LB parcel tax (the group hasn't taken a position yet on the LB measure) but with some striking parallels to it, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association calls parcel taxes problematic and inequitable, explains how to defeat them and urges focusing on Councilmembers who support putting such taxes on the ballot.

    As reported in detail by, at a midafternoon study session scheduled by City Hall for five days before Christmas, polling and ballot strategy firms (hired at an $80,000 taxpayer cost to date by city management following a June 2005 voted Council request) advised the Council to put a parcel tax (imposed on residential property owners, but not commercial or industrial property) on the April 2006 LB city ballot (roughly $4 million for libraries) plus a 1/2 cent sales tax increase on the November 2006 ballot ($23 million for police). [Detailed coverage, click here.]

    The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association states in pertinent part on its website:

    ...All of the various "add-ons" to the property tax bill a homeowner receives each year, including from parcel taxes, have the effect of eroding the property tax relief provided by Proposition 13...

    There are also serious equity concerns...Parcel taxes are very regressive, especially for homeowners whose assessed value is protected by Proposition 13. With a parcel tax, homeowners generally pay the same amount per parcel without regard to the value or use of the parcel. Thus, a homeowner living in a modest home can pay the same parcel tax amount as someone who lives in an expensive mansion, or the owner of a huge office building worth tens of millions of dollars...

    Not only does a parcel tax disproportionately burden property owners, but such taxes are especially unfair to homeowners (single-family residential parcels). Since the amount of a parcel tax is generally the same for each parcel, and since in most local jurisdictions single-family residential parcels constitute the bulk of parcels within the jurisdiction (often more than 80% of the taxable parcels), the vast majority of the tax burden (frequently more than 80%) will disproportionately fall on single-family residential parcels.

    The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association warned that in situations (like a northern CA County) where a high percentage of assessed parcels are residential, it would not be "uncommon for many members of the business community to support flat parcel tax measures." In the proposed LB parcel tax, LB city management has explicitly said it envisions imposing 100% of the parcel tax on residential (including condo) property owners -- while exempting commercial or industrial properties (unless containing residential).

    The taxpayer group continued in pertinent part:

    In order to stop the deluge of parcel taxes being imposed by local governments, taxpayers must defend themselves and take a more active role in opposing these taxes when they appear on the ballot in their local community.

    ...[T]he tax proponents will be well organized and will usually have extensive financial and manpower resources at their disposal. Large campaign contributions frequently come from special interest groups that have a vested financial interest in passing a parcel tax...Many in the local business community are also frequently supportive of parcel taxes, especially flat parcel taxes where each parcel pays the same amount without regard to value or land use.

    Local governments also frequently hire expensive consultants (at taxpayer expense) to tell them the best way to pass a parcel tax. These consultants often advise local officials not to publicize the parcel tax election to the entire community, but to target only their supporters...

    It is a frequent tactic used by local governments to schedule low turnout special elections for parcel tax measures, even though such elections are very expensive, in an effort to sneak through a parcel tax...

    Since it is illegal for local officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a political issue, consultants frequently counsel parcel tax supporters on the best way to wage "information" campaigns. This often means putting up signs or sending out material stating all the "good things" a parcel tax will do, but stopping just short of telling people how to vote.

    ...When addressing the public, parcel tax backers are frequently encouraged to put the annual cost in simple, friendly sounding terms that usually begin with "it's only." "It's only a few cents a day," or "it's only a few dollars per month." Officials try to make it sound like the coming property tax increase is trivial and that anyone who is opposed must be a cheapskate.

    Newspapers can be another problem for taxpayers. While editors at a few papers may be sympathetic to the taxpayers' cause, the vast majority of newspapers are almost universally hostile and will support most parcel tax increases proposed by local governments...

    The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association website advised:

    Local parcel taxes can be defeated if opponents are willing to work, but it will take hard work.

    If you learn that a parcel tax will be discussed, alert friends and neighbors to the fact that property taxes may be going up and encourage them to join you in attending the local governing board meetings at which the parcel tax is discussed. Take advantage of the public comment portion of the meeting to express your concerns and objections.,,

    Every political movement begins with only a few people. Your friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow club members, and members of homeowner associations are always an excellent source of support for taxpayer issues. Share the information you gather with them. Many people don't keep up with what is happening in politics, especially local politics, but it is a rare person who doesn't want to know if their taxes are about to go up. Once people are informed, the word will spread...

    Consider forming an opposition campaign (or joining the campaign if one has already been formed), especially if it appears that there is widespread community opposition to a parcel tax. A formal opposition campaign can enhance the credibility of the opposition which can lead to such things as greater newspaper coverage and participation in campaign forums.

    And the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association website recommends, "Find out where the various candidates stand on taxation issues and support only those candidates who pledge to oppose local tax increases. Remember, placing a parcel tax measure on the ballot is a discretionary political act by a local government in which at least a majority of the governing body votes to support a local tax increase. Unfortunately, too many local elected officials believe that raising taxes is an acceptable "solution" to a budgetary "problem."

    Among LB Council incumbents, Vice Mayor/5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell (currently waging a write-in campaign seeking a third term) voiced immediate support for putting the parcel tax on the ballot, followed by 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga who also indicated she supports doing so. 2d district Councilmembers Dan Baker and Laura Richardson tempered their support, voicing concerns over possibly jeopardizing a November ballot measure seeking a (larger revenue-producing) LB sales tax hike.

    8th district Councilwoman Rae Gabelich and 9th district Councilman Val Lerch stopped short of supporting the parcel tax, citing concern over jeopardizing a proposed LB sales tax measure in November, and Councilman Patrick O'Donnell indicated he favored addressing public safety needs first. [Extended transcript excerpts, click here.]

    Candidates seeking Council office in April 2006 criticized City Hall moves toward the parcel tax. Among the strongest opposition came in ELB's normally placid 5th district, where Council candidates Gerrie Schipske and Ed Barwick blasted incumbent Kell's stance. 3d district Council candidates Norm Ryan and Gary DeLong also opposed the tax-increase approach; other candidates also expressed varying levels of opposition. [Extended candidate comments, click here.]

    To put the proposed LB parcel tax on the ballot would require an affirmative vote by five of nine Councilmembers at the Council's regularly scheduled January 3 or 10 meeting, or on January 13 at the latest.

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