San Luis Obispo residents facing tax fatigue
September 18, 2014
OPINION By SLO COUNCILMAN DAN CARPENTER
On Nov. 4, San Luis Obispo voters will be voting on three local tax/bond measures. A new ½ percent city sales tax (Measure G), a $177 million San Luis Coastal Unified School District bond, and a $275 million Cuesta College bond. No sooner than the economy starts to recover from the recession, each one of these public entities is eager to solicit your resources to support their needs.
Measure G, the new ½ percent sales tax is unnecessary when you consider the addiction to revenue our city has.
The marketing narrative from City Hall contends Measure G is an “extension” of Measure Y instead of calling it the “new tax” that it is. Misrepresenting the truth to ascertain an affirmative vote is deceitful. Nothing in the 2006 original ballot language provides an option to extend the tax when it expires in March, 2015.
In fact, “eight years only” is explicit and unequivocal. Projecting that more than 70 percent of the sales tax comes from consumers who don’t reside in the city cannot be substantiated and is speculative at best.
Fear mongering tactics such as “residents will lose services”, or “capital improvement projects will be diminished” are acts of coercion. An impartial audit done this past spring confirms categorically that spending on capital improvement projects has remained constant the past 15 years, while staffing costs have escalated at an alarming rate consuming the lion’s share of the additional revenue. Proponents should cease with the deceptive portraiture as it continues to insult the integrity of the informed voter.
San Luis Coastal Unified School District is the victim of poor leadership in Sacramento as our state legislature continues to deprioritize spending on public education. How is that California now ranks 49th in the nation in per-student spending on K-12 when Californians pay some of the highest taxes in the country? Our state leaders continue to lose sight of their commitment to quality education by fraudulently mismanaging and squandering our precious resources, hence thrusting the unfair burden onto the backs of our local economies.
Cuesta College is asking district taxpayers to open their wallets to the tune of a $275 million bond for facility repairs and upgrades. Based on my research, the facts simply don’t support the timing of this ask. Overall enrollment has dropped 30 percent during the last four years as have completion rates at both North County and San Luis Obispo campuses.
Course offerings in technical and vocational fields have been eliminated with more concentration on transferable courses to four year universities. A steady growth in students are coming from outside the district to attend Cuesta because of its high transfer rate to Cal Poly and the students do not pay any additional tuition or fees. Only half of all students achieve their goal of a degree, certificate, or transfer to a four year university, and they do so in six years.
The current facilities appear underutilized, underscoring the need for a comprehensive feasibility study to assess the potential for consolidating North County and San Luis Obispo campuses into one location.
Administrative operations should be evaluated when considering the merits of this facilities bond. Over half the district’s full time faculty are paid in excess of $100,000 a year total compensation (more than Cal Poly faculty with PhD’s) while the overall number of classes offered has dropped.
The recent summer session was thrown together, not as a result of long-term planning, but as a relatively last minute effort to garner students to prevent a loss in revenue from the state. Not a good master plan for ongoing sustainable funding and meeting the district’s standard for quality education and student success.
Cuesta recently emerged from the sanctions of accreditation and has spent $120,000 in their bond feasibility preparation and the Foundation has committed another $65,000 to market this bond to the taxpayers. Is this too soon to be asking for an investment of this size when the future of the college was uncertain earlier this year? You’ll have to decide.
The average SLO resident is not only facing these local tax/bond measures in November but also facing higher sewer and water rates, rising utility cost, higher gas taxes, higher personal income tax, raising health care cost, food, transportation and other necessities. How will these measures impact working families, fixed income seniors, students with debt, and the working poor? Property tax bonds in the City of SLO are inherently regressive. With 2/3 of the residences now non-owner occupied, landlords are inclined to pass on any property tax increases directly to their tenants.
As your elected leaders we should be setting an example of sound fiscal oversight. It’s simply a bad time to ask SLO residents to open their wallets. It’s time for all agencies to tighten their belts and live within their means just as our residents have been throughout the recovery.