Beware of “Local” Measures

Editorial   . . .


. Thomas Adams

At the last mid-terms in 2010, Ventura County had measure H, a ½ % parcel tax with the promise that ALL of the money would go to benefit local schools. It was discovered that all 58 counties in California had measures to benefit local schools. Hard to believe it was just a coincidence. A website that is only functional during election cycles called showed the dollar amount for all 58 of these “Local” measures. Ventura County was one of the smaller price tags at $4½ Million per year but showed measures with costs up to a whopping $95 Million in annual revenue. When added all together, the cumulative sum of these county measures came out to $1.8 Billion per year… for a public school system that already drains about half of the annual California budget. And, in case you didn’t know, there are dozens of ways to legally “launder” such monies and siphon them off to another place. Whenever you hear: “none of the money goes to the fat-cats in Sacramento” you can bet that’s exactly where it’s going.

Unfortunately, you have to think like a thief to figure out our Government. If some monies go to the NEA (National Education Association), for example, that technically isn’t the “State.” If a SoCal County says “nothing will go to Sacramento” that means it could go to the Los Angeles branch of some government agency, that can subsequently transfer funds to Sacramento. All you have to do is think creatively as to how somebody could manipulate words in order to skim money. An “Administrative Fee” for example, could transfer millions from one account to another.   Money could get shifted to an “Approval Committee” for another example. Sometimes there’s verbiage declaring local citizen watchdogs that will monitor the funds. Know this: As soon as that ball of money passes through one or two entities, it is effectively “Laundered” and can then be passed in any direction. It’s basically a legal shell-game.

 The Ventura County school measure didn’t pass, but many other measures across the state did pass, which is how the machine works. It’s like a batting average. All the measures don’t need to pass to successfully glean millions of extra tax dollars from unwitting regions who vote yes. This has proven so successful, you can expect it on every ballot from here on out. This strategy was incorporated when the public started to resist statewide propositions, so a divide-and-conquer technique was adapted, and it has been quite successful. After Prop 30 passed, the bill that raised our sales and income taxes the LAO (Legislative Analyst’s Office) declared that we now had a balanced budget, but it left off all of the unfunded obligations to the tune of $443 billion. Prop 30 treated the symptom (the debt), not the disease (uncontrolled spending). Additionally, we have actions like SB 400, a Union entitlement increase that wasn’t supposed to cost the taxpayers a dime. This bill, which passed 70-7 in the assembly and 39-0 in the state senate, is now costing taxpayers an additional $3.5 billion per year as of 2011. With this cavalier attitude towards taxpayers combined with the skyrocketing debt of CalPERS, SEIU, unfunded bond issues and a large number of other obligations, the barrage of locally hidden tax gouging will not stop anytime soon.

These tax-grabs come in many forms: Fee attachments on parcel services, many on your property tax, additional interest charges on all car loans, county bond initiatives, any number of ways to carve just a few pennies out for a “noble cause”. They are usually a fraction of a percent and usually pitched as temporary.  When you plug all of these incremental fractions into a statewide calculator, it always comes out to hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

Since the awareness of county measures has expanded, these tax grab initiatives have grown into thousands of measures being proposed to individual municipalities. Think about it, if you live in Agoura, how aware are you likely to be about a city measure in Santa Barbara, or Petaluma, or Shasta?  In 2012 things got worse. There were nearly 400 “Local” tax issues that were proposed to municipalities across California w 124 county Bond issues. 130 Muni issues passed with just over 100 of the County Bonds. If everything cashes in, it will yield over $13 Billion. Expect another onslaught of these measures since it is often easier to get measures passed  with a lower turnout than for a general election.

The precise topics seem to work in a cycle. One election it will be schools, the next perhaps parks, then beaches, prisons… then the cycle will start over again, relying on the fleeting memory of the working American. The smart money is betting on water initiatives for 2014. Ads will prospectively blame the drought instead of governmental mismanagement and the politicization of the topic. 

The measures will have different dynamics from one city/county to another and will vary from Elementary Schools to Junior College to use the school guise to feed the festering NEA or CTU. To feed other public service unions you might see a host of measures for a walking path in a park maintenance in an open space area. Switching words and focus around keeps too many of them from coming up on a general GOOGLE search. One of the better search words to use is “Temporary” fee or tax. (Astonishing how often they turn out to be permanent) While looking at these measures, scrutinize what is said and, equally as important, what is not said. If they say “nothing goes to the State” or “Sacramento” then ponder to whom else it might go. Look for loopholes in the wording.

The Liberals love to attack opponents with something like “Why do you hate kids?” over a school initiative, for example. Then they’ll piously adjust their halos while “appropriating” those school funds to feed union entitlement debts, fattened salary payrolls, their chosen political candidates and, of course, funding the next tax-grab initiatives. As soon as anyone questions any of these bills, they will be immediately accused of being  “Haters” or “Extremists” or some other nasty name. This is the tiresome trick of putting fiscal conservatives on the defensive. What they conveniently won’t mention, of the billions of dollars that are annually allocated to education, over 50% of it never leaves Sacramento. A half a century ago, when California schools were #1 in the Nation, there were 2 levels of upper management in Sacramento. Now there are 13 levels bloated levels of upper management in the Sacramento Department of Education and now our schools rank at the back of the pack.

Video of Retiring NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin

To scope these gouge-bills out, simply look for city/county measures that benefits state or federal entities. Whatever topic(s) the tax & spend politicians are pulling your heartstrings over or using fear tactics towards, there are already BILLIONS in place to address ANY ONE of these state or federal issues. As a general rule, if it costs you money. JUST SAY NO!

We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. Spokespeople keep saying they can’t lower costs for this agency or that, but nobody ever offers a coherent reason why. Best guess is because they don’t want to. It’s easier (and much more comfortable) to gouge the public for more and more of their hard-earned dollars.  


Thomas Adams is a wine and spirits wholesaler born in Bay Village Ohio and California resident since 1969; Ventura county since ’76,  and has resided in Thousand Oaks since 1998


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Steve Frank

Thanks–well written, good info. Great research. Reminds us to not give money to the educrats that run government schools.

BTW, doing a story for tomorrow–the Feds are demanding CalSTRS add an extra $12 billion next year–to keep it open–this year they added only $1 billion. I imagine the Feds will ask the same of CalPRS–another $12 billion. Where will the State get $24 billion to keep these two losers open?

Great job Tom.