Should the city of Chico be using taxpayer money to run their tax measure?

18 Nov

According to the California Constitution, state law prohibits local agencies to use public funds, public employees, or public resources to expressly advocate the approval or rejection of a ballot measure. While the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has said they have limited jurisdiction over this matter, county district attorneys can take on an agency that violates this law.

Unfortunately our district attorney has a very poor record of upholding the laws that protect the people. Fortunately for the taxpayers, there’s the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. HJTA uses funding provided by members like you and me to take on the agencies that buck the law. But they need taxpayers like us to be on alert to these illegal activities. When the city of Chico tried to get “judicial validation” of a Pension Obligation Bond instead of putting it on the ballot, concerned Chicoans contacted HJTA – we sent a Bat Signal! – and their attorneys went into action, filing a Cease and Desist Order with a threat to sue if Chico Staffers continued on that track. I kind of held my breath, expecting City of Chico to call HJTA’s bluff and proceed. So far they seem to have abandoned that action. I realize, Chico knows that action was illegal, and the chances are very good that they would spend a bunch of money to lose in court.

Locally, HJTA has taken on both Yuba County and the Hamilton Branch Fire Protection District (near Chester) over deceptive and illegally-funded tax measure campaigns. In Yuba County, 2018, voters were asked to approve Measure K, a 1% sales tax increase for “public safety/essential services.” The language of the measure listed exclusive special purposes, and followed all code requirements for a special tax. HJTA advised the county that it was a special tax requiring a two-thirds vote, but the county ignored the law and declared it a general tax. It barely passed with 54% of the vote. The trial court sided with HJTA, declaring Measure K invalid. Unfortunately the appeals court reversed that decision and Yuba County was allowed to go on collecting their illegal tax.

In 2020, Hamilton Fire Protection District proposed Measure A, a $175 increase in the local special tax. Run as a two-thirds measure, it failed. A year later, they brought the same proposal back to the ballot. It passed with 74% of the vote. But here’s where city of Chico residents need to pay attention – the district illegally used taxpayer money to run their campaign. Their Facebook page, as well as full-page glossy color photo brochures urging voters to “please Vote YES on Measure A“, declaring it “well worth the peace of mind!

That is patently illegal. HJTA filed suit against Hamilton Branch Fire District. And like the city of Chico, the tiny district realized they were had and asked for terms of settlement. Among other points, HJTA asked for “adoption of an official written policy that would prevent such abuse in the future”.

The city of Chico is running a tax measure, it would seem logical they have to use city funds. So far they’ve hired a consultant to run the campaign.

https://chico.ca.us/request-proposalsqualifications

RFP- Revenue Measure & Communications Consultant 
The City of Chico is seeking to obtain proposals from qualified firms to advise the City Council and City staff on developing appropriate ballot language for a proposed 1% general sales tax to appear on the 2022 November general election. Additionally, consultation will be necessary on how best to educate voters on the proposed 1% general sales tax measure and the development of materials and other outreach efforts to ensure citizens receive objective and accurate information related to the ballot measure.  The City will accept proposals until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, November 5, 2021. Please click on “Projects to Bid” on the right to view the RFP within Public Purchase. 

This seems illegal to me but I’m no lawyer. “how best to educate voters… efforts to ensure citizens receive objective and accurate information…” There’s the important point – just exactly how do they intend to “educate” the voters? CARD’s “educational” process was deceptive. Director Ann Willmann held “public information sessions,” during which one taxpayer caught her saying the district had no debt – despite their $128 million pension deficit. The board approved the use of taxpayer money to print glossy brochures extoling their virtues, leaving out important facts about the measure, including the bond they intended to secure with the revenues. So I’ll contact HJTA to put them on alert to the city’s tax measure, if they aren’t already aware.

And I’ll add, you can be a member of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for as little as $15. Your money goes to efforts like these. They have a small legal staff to go up against huge public agencies. They could use some back-up.

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