Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 16, 2006

No on A, yes on E

Two local tax measures appear on my June primary ballot.

I’m voting against Measure A, the half-cent sales tax measure that would raise Santa Clara County’s sales tax to 8.75 percent, for several reasons.

First, the money’s heading for the county’s general fund, which means it can be spent on anything. This leads to the “trust us” syndrome, precisely described by County Supervisor Don Gage when he voted to put the measure on the ballot: “You have to trust us. We’re putting that money in our general fund and we will have the money to spend it as we see fit.”

Second, a quarter-cent increase is all the county needs to balance its books. A half-cent boost is greedy overreaching.

Third, the county’s being awfully vague about where that extra quarter-cent will be spent. But with the VTA abandoning its own quarter-cent sales tax plan, and with BART boosters Carl Guardino and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group now campaigning heavily for Measure A, I’m not alone in betting the money will fund the BART-to-San Jose boondoggle.

Don’t get me wrong. If speculation of a back-room deal is correct, it was a crafty political move by BART backers. After all, the VTA’s quarter-cent sales tax measure would have needed two-thirds voter approval, while the county needs only a simple majority. Not only that, the VTA’s SVLG-funded polling predicted failure for the VTA’s sales-tax measure.

So poof, the VTA’s proposal for a quarter-cent sales tax disappears, the county’s sales tax proposal doubles from a quarter-cent to a half-cent, and what’s a girl to think?

Here’s what County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, who voted against placing Measure A on the June ballot, thinks:

“In the last six to eight weeks, the half-cent sales tax has been raised, and it is very coincidental that all of a sudden we put transportation in the mix.” (Mountain View Voice, March 3, 2006)

“There’s an underlying feeling out there that this proposal is a way to circumvent the two-thirds vote requirement. It becomes quite deceptive if we don’t tell it like it really is … and take our chances that voters will accept that more money is needed for transportation.” (Gilroy Dispatch, March 1, 2006)

Had supervisors asked for a quarter-cent increase, had they provided an ironclad promise that none of it would fund the BART extension, my vote might be different.

But they didn’t, and I’m voting no on Measure A.

Measure E, however, the parcel tax for the Morgan Hill Unified School District, is another matter. I’m voting yes.

This parcel tax seeks a modest $96 per year for five years with an exemption for senior citizens. Measure E requests a reasonable amount of money for a limited period of time with a specific list of projects. It’s not heading toward the general fund abyss.

Measure E needs to get two-thirds voter approval, a difficult threshold to reach.

I’m looking at this parcel tax like a feeler bet in poker. For those of you not addicted to the World Poker Tour, a feeler bet is made by a player to determine if she has the best hand. Make a small bet, see if the other players call or not, and how quickly, and you’ve paid a small price for some information to evaluate if you’re holding the best cards.

For those of us in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, this parcel tax is a limited-liability way to evaluate our brand-new superintendent and relatively new school board.

But my endorsement comes with a caveat. The money must be spent well. It’s not enough to buy technology, which is the district’s top priority if Measure E passes. The district must buy the right technology for its needs, implement it well (let’s not put heat-sensitive computer equipment in un-air-conditioned attics, shall we?), and use it fully.

But that’s still not enough. The district needs a school board that doesn’t rubber stamp administration proposals, that asks tough questions and demands reasonable answers, that holds highly paid administrators accountable. It must ensure that the environment for students, teachers and other employees is as stress free as possible, with open lines of communication and an atmosphere of trust. Kingdom building, rigid agendas and cronyism must be banished.

If the district can pass Measure E – and I hope it does – and if it spends the money wisely, and if it puts education and accountability first and egos and agendas last – and I really hope it does – then I predict great things for MHUSD.

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