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Would A $100 Parcel Tax For Local Schools Get Your Vote?

Sometimes the biggest changes begin with little fanfare. For example, on the San Diego Unified School Board's 5 p.m. agenda on Tuesday evening was the rather obscure item ‘I’ on a list that began with ‘A’ and ended with ‘M’. Item ‘I’ was called the “Superintendent's Consent Agenda …Agreement with The Primacy Group, Inc. for a Parcel Tax Feasibility Study.” Those words don’t exactly cause one’s heart to race with either joy or apprehension. But once that agenda item was approved by a 3-to-2 vote, it set in motion a mechanism that could improve the working conditions for San Diego’s public school teachers, that might increase the potential for their students, and that would add a tax for homeowners and businesses.

The idea behind the feasibility study is to evaluate whether San Diegans will vote to tax home and business owners $100 per parcel of land to help out San Diego city schools whose budgets have suffered mightily because of the state’s financial crisis. Unlike the school bonds passed by the voters in years past which were used to pay for specific items, such as construction, this parcel tax could be used to pay for teacher salaries, professional development and career technology training. In other words, a range of benefits that the current budget can’t handle. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association opposes it.

A parcel tax is not a shoo-in in San Diego County. Last November, Proposition A on the county ballot, which would have imposed a $52 parcel tax to create a regional fire task force, did not get the necessary 2/3 approval from the voters.

In fact, the county has never had a parcel tax approved by the voters. Yet the rest of California seems to be more generous. In 2008, 17 of 21 school parcel taxes proposed in the state passed. And in San Diego County, all seven school bonds passed. But school bonds only need a 55 percent “yes” vote to pass. However, those outcomes could mean that in recent years, the voters are feeling kinder about supporting education measures.

Back to Agenda item ‘I’ which provides up to $130,000 to political consultant Larry Remer to conduct the feasibility study using polling and whatever else to gauge the public's sentiment on a parcel tax for schools. Mr. Remer may also be spending some of his time lobbying the Legislature to change the rules to lower the 2/3 approval vote to 55 percent, or maybe even to 50 percent plus one vote. And if all looks positive, he will write the ballot measure.

Although he ran into legal difficulties a few years ago with a Southwestern College assignment, he does have a very good track record running school bond campaigns that win: $2.1 billion Proposition S in 2008 and $1.51 billion Proposition MM in 1998.

So, keep your eye on this one because Item ‘I’ may very well morph into Proposition ??? on your November 2010 ballot and lighten your wallet just a bit more.