The deadline for local governments to place tax hikes on the November ballot is fast approaching. That is why political advisers have descended like grasshoppers on city councils, county supervisory boards and school boards to present their services. Their objective ? Duping, uh, convincing voters to approve even higher levels of taxation.
These consultants are simply astute and very persuasive. They also use taxpayers’ money to engage in so-called “educational” campaigns telling the public why their city, county, or school needs more money, whether they need it or not.
Here’s how it works. Tax consulting firms engage in aggressive advertising by offering their services directly to local governments or through associations such as the League of California Cities or the California School Boards Association. If they get a bite out of a jurisdiction, they claim to be able to do a “feasibility” study to test voters’ receptivity to a tax hike. But these surveys are often filled with questions designed to gain support for the desired outcome (eg, do you think education is important?).
Armed with “data” showing that tax increases could be approved by voters, the consultants then engage in “outreach” to organizations and interests that stand to benefit from tax increases, such as labor unions in the public sector and construction companies. The jurisdiction is even beginning to engage in direct mail campaigns designed to elicit goodwill from voters. These can be glossy flyers with pictures of police officers or firefighters.
The next step is the drafting of the tax hike measure, which invariably begins with “findings” of dire need for extra money. Drafting includes coordinating with the consultant’s legal team and government attorneys to provide titles and one-sided voting summaries.
The sad part of all the activity described above is that it is funded entirely by taxpayers. It is only when the actual political campaign begins that the consultants partner with special interest groups for the “advocacy” part of the campaign. But even here, the examples of local governments crossing the line into taxpayer-funded advocacy are too numerous to mention. Additionally, in most of these cases, the consultant hired to conduct the election campaign is the same company that conducted the “information” campaign on behalf of the city, county, or school district.
Taxpayer-funded political campaigns are illegal. Free speech clauses in federal and state constitutions prohibit the use of government-imposed monetary contributions (including taxes) to support or oppose political campaigns.
As we enter the 2022 election cycle, cities, counties and special districts will use public funds to propose tax hikes.The Modesto Bee previously reported that the City of Modesto is considering spending $115,000 on consulting services to test the viability of a tax increase.
Fortunately, prosecuting such violations of law was the very reason the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association created the new Public Integrity Project, which has already proven to be an additional enforcement tool against illegal spending. of public funds and other violations of the law that harm taxpayers and voters.
Citizens who believe that their government entity is illegally spending public funds on election-related activities can contact HJTA as well as the Fair Political Practices Commission. To find out if anyone is proposing a local tax increase for your November poll, check the website of your city council, county board of supervisors and school board throughout June and read the order of the day of all future meetings.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.