Opinion: New tax increase today - and the voters did it


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tax hikes, South Pasadena, public schools, Measure S

South Pasadenans say “tax me.” In the latest in a string of mail-only votes in relatively well-to-do school districts in the Los Angeles area, voters in South Pas apparently have adopted a parcel tax to pay for schools. The ballot deadline was yesterday; votes were counted almost immediately and the finally tally gave Measure S just over the 2/3 supermajority it needed to pass.


The Pasadena Star-News reports that there are still a few absentee ballots to be counted, so the results aren’t final. I’m waiting to hear back from the usually responsive L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s Office on this; seems to me that if it was a mail-only election, all ballots are absentee and would have been counted at the same time. I’ll update you when they update me.

*UPDATE: The Registrar-Recorder’s Office explains that these figures do not include ballots received yesterday, either by mail or dropped off in person. There are enough of those that they could make a difference in the outcome. A fuller tally is expected after 5 p.m. on Friday.

This is a property tax, sort of. Instead of an assessment based on the value of the property, a parcel tax generally bills the owner of each piece of property the same amount. In this case, that’s $288 for most parcels, residential and commercial alike, except for multi-unit parcels, which are $95 per unit.

Here are the still-unofficial results: Yes, 3,991, or 67.26%; No, 1,943, or 32.74%.

See our June 2 post on school parcel taxes here. See Times staff writer Seema Mehta’s comprehensive June 15 story here.

San Marino approved its school parcel tax proposal last month. Ballots are due Tuesday in the Palos Verdes school district and the following Tuesday in school districts in La Cañada Flintridge and Rowland, which covers all or parts of the cities of Rowland Heights, West Covina, City of Industry and Walnut.

Mehta’s story notes that the Los Angeles Unified School District also is considering a parcel tax, and I love her quote from Superintendent Ramon Cortines: “We can’t just depend on government to provide more.” As if LAUSD isn’t government.

But I get what he means. “Government” right now is the state government, which has a deep budget crisis and is cutting funding to schools. Class sizes will jump, teachers will be laid off and special programs will be cut, unless local taxpayers make up the difference.

What’s interesting is the response of taxpayers in different communities. Voters in L.A. Unified have generally shown themselves to be only too happy to raise taxes on themselves (or, more to the point, on property owners) to pay for schools. Last November, they adopted Measure Q, a staggering $7 billion construction bond that will be repaid from property taxes. Largely overlapping populations in the Los Angeles Community College District also passed, on the same day, the $3.5 billion Measure J and a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects. This is a liberal population that, as a whole, is just fine with tax increases for education and transportation.

But within Los Angeles County there are pockets of significant Republican registration and deep skepticism about tax increases, and among those pockets are -- how about that -- the school districts that are currently weighing, or that have already have adopted, parcel taxes for schools.

Unlike the perpetually troubled LAUSD, the Rowland, Palos Verdes, La Cañada, South Pasadena and San Marino school districts are among the best in the state, and parents/voters/property owners seem intent on keeping them that way.

Isn’t that a good thing? It is -- but what happens when the same people who tax themselves to maintain their schools also charge “the government” with being wasteful and elect anti-tax lawmakers? Schools are protected, but human services -- health clinics, senior services, and the like -- are grouped with “the government” and are defunded, as in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent budget proposal.

One additional twist -- at least anecdotally, in comments posted on this blog, editorials and news stories, many Californians unhappy with government and unwilling to pay higher taxes say their biggest problem is that so much of California’s resources is going to so many illegal immigrants. Yet the highest cost center for illegal immigrants may well be the schools, which voters appear to want to support with their tax dollars. Illegal immigrants are ineligible for most of the other services that our readers and others claim they get too much of: CalWORKS (the state welfare program), Healthy Families (low cost medical insurance for qualifying children and teens), and most Medi-Cal programs.

Yes, illegal immigrants do qualify for a few Medi-Cal programs, including emergency and family planning, and to some citizens, that’s already too much. And yes, California bears the costs of illegal immigrants in prisons, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone is thrilled to pay that bill. But education appears to be a different story.