Voters show support for city-school sales tax

GUSD

A telephone survey of 501 likely November 2012 Gilroy voters shows those who were polled would “strongly support a city sales tax for local schools,” according to San Francisco-based consulting firm TBWB Strategies.

After the firm was contracted by the Gilroy Unified School District in May to explore the feasibility of passing a joint city-school sales tax, TBWB partnered with EMC Research, Inc. to facilitate a telephone survey from June 5 through June 11.

When initially asked about a one-half cent sales tax increase that would last eight years and could generate about $5.6 million annually in funding that would stay in Gilroy, 61 percent of voters said “yes,” they would approve it, or they would “lean” toward approving it.

A quarter cent sales tax increase that could generate about $2.8 million annually looks slightly more favorable, according to 64 percent of voters who initially replied “yes,” they would approve it or “lean” toward approving it. The current sales tax in Gilroy is 8.25 percent.

Voters were also queried about a sales tax for “general use,” which only requires a 50 percent plus one majority vote. This classification of sales tax, however, gives GUSD no legal guarantee of what the money will be used for.

If the district were to pursue a “specific use” sales tax, alternately, the revenue would serve a pre-determined purpose but requires a two-thirds, or 66.7 percent vote.

Overall, support for a general sales tax measure shows 63 percent of those who were polled would “yes” or “lean” toward yes on a city-school sales tax, which is above the required majority threshold.

When asked that same question again at the end of the survey after being provided with positive and negative issues related to a possible sales tax, voter support dipped to 55 percent.

One of the questions asked to pollees reads:

“Shall an ordinance be adopted to provide stable local funding for schools and essential city priorities such as improving the quality of local school academic programs in reading, writing, math and science; and restoring student instructional days lost to state cuts by enacting a City of Gilroy (either a one-half cent or quarter cent) transaction and use tax for eight years, subject to independent annual audits, and all funds staying in Gilroy?”

Key findings from the survey demonstrate that support is strong among GUSD parents, Democrats, those who are unemployed, female, rent a home, are younger than 40 years old and/or are facing economic hardship, according to TBWB.

When the survey asked voters to rate the importance of projects and programs that could be supported by the tax measure, 79 percent identified “improving the quality of local school academic programs in reading, writing, math and science” as “very important.”

Attracting and retaining quality public school teachers is also high on the list with 76 percent of voters rating this as “very important,” followed by 65 percent of voters who said “improving safety on and around school campuses” is “very important.”

Voters were also presented with arguments against a Gilroy sales tax.

This includes: Not being able to trust that the city won’t spend the revenue on whatever it wants; the concern that the tax revenue will go toward “bloated” government salaries and pensions; the fact Gilroyans are already paying for a bond measure for local schools; and the fear that an additional sales tax increase in Gilroy would make the total sales tax “way too high.

The percentage of voters who viewed each issue as a “very compelling” reason to vote “no” on the sales tax ranges from 30 to 39 percent.

TBWB’s presentation concludes that “a strong majority of voters supports a local city sales tax for Gilroy schools,” and that support remains over 50 percent, even after voters were exposed to “robust negative messages.” TBWB also recommends pursuing a one-half cent sales tax measure.

This story was written prior to the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education meeting Thursday night. Check back at www.gilroydispatch.com for updates and comments from GUSD trustees.

• 63 percent: Overall amount of voters who would vote “yes” or “lean” toward yes when asked at the beginning of the survey if they would support a city-school sales tax. When asked the same question again at the end of the survey, after pollees were provided with positive and negative issues surrounding the possible tax, the percentage of voters who would vote “yes” or “lean” toward yes on a sales tax dipped to 55 percent.
• 65 percent: Parents who think that schools have a great need for more money
• 68 percent: Voters who agree that improving the quality of education should be a top priority, even if it means raising taxes
• 48 percent: Number of voters who strongly agree, or somewhat agree, that increasing the local sales tax will significantly harm the Gilroy economy and hurt local businesses.
• 45 percent: Number of voters who strongly agree, or somewhat agree, that taxes are already too high, and will vote against any tax increase on the ballot, regardless of what it’s used for.
 • GUSD is faced with losing $2.9 million or $8.1 million in state funding in the 2012-2013 school year. This is contingent on whether voters pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative in November 2012.
• Brown’s tax initiative would generate an estimated $8.5 billion through the budget year. It will temporarily increase the personal income tax on the state’s wealthiest taxpayers by up to 3 percent for seven years, and increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent for four years.

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