Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: ‘O’ what tangled webs we weave

By From page A2 | March 23, 2014

“Measure ‘O’ Ballot Question Challenged in Court,” said the headline over the press release from Jose Granda, a local chap who consistently holds the feet of elected officials to the fire when it comes to raising our taxes.

Which is all well and good. If Jose didn’t do it, probably nobody would.

As the press release explains, a petition has been filed in Yolo County Superior Court seeking to “eliminate the question of Measure ‘O’ ” from the ballot on June 3 “on the grounds that it contains false and misleading statements to be presented to the voters.”

“False” and “misleading,” of course, are loaded words that sometimes hint of malfeasance. In the instant case, it can reasonably be argued that some of what will be presented to the voters is indeed “false,” but it’s unlikely that anyone will actually be misled.

Granda claims he is “asking the Court to determine if a ‘half-cent sales and use tax’ is the same as a ‘half-percent sales and use tax,’ and also if a ‘one-cent tax’ is the same as a ‘one-percent tax.’ “

As I wrote last week in a fit of brilliance when this issue first came to light as a ballot “quirk” and not a full-blown court case: “There is a substantial difference, even if the terms do tend to be used interchangeably.”

I further noted: “with a half-cent sales tax, presumably, one half-cent is added to your bill, no matter how large the total. With a half-percent sales tax, half a percent is added to your bill, meaning an added 5 cents on a $10 purchase and an added 50 cents on a $100 purchase.”

No doubt, the City Council meant to say “half a percent,” but the problem here is that it’s too late to clean up the language and still have the measure on the ballot come June 3.

Apologists for the city’s sloppiness say “well, everyone knows what they meant to say.” My friend David went so far as to tell me there is “absolutely no difference” between a half-cent sales and use tax and a half-percent sales and use tax, which is just plain silly.

With all due respect to politicians, mathematicians and tax tacticians, there is no way on God’s earth that there is “absolutely no difference” between these two distinct methods of taxation. One is based on the total purchase price and the other one isn’t. Period.

In short, from a purely technical standpoint, Granda is right. Whether a Yolo County Superior Court judge will see it Granda’s way is a bit more problematic.

The city will no doubt argue it’s universally accepted that when it comes to taxes, the term “half-cent” is understood to mean “half-percent,” and that no city anywhere in the great state of California actually charges a flat sales or use tax that is not based on a percentage of the whole.

Which brings me to Exhibit A, which proves just the opposite. I should note that this is my own personal Exhibit A and is not a part of Granda’s filing with the court.

What I’m looking at is a spring break hotel reservation I made in the Orange County city of Anaheim.

The nightly rate — you’d better sit down — is a cool $200, but it does include a complimentary breakfast for six the next morning, which does ease the pain considerably.

There are two taxes added to my bill. The first is a “17.00 percent per room per night” tax that comes in at $34.

The second is a “0.10 per room per night” tax that comes in at 10 cents.

The grand total for a night’s stay is thus $234.10.

The one tax is based on a percent of the total bill, while the other is a flat 10-cent tax that has nothing to do with the size of the bill.

If the term “10-cent tax” really means “10-percent tax,” the second tax would add $20 to my bill instead of one thin dime.

Given the city of Davis’ alleged need to quickly raise some meaningful revenue, it would be nice to see Measure O on theJune ballot.

How that will be accomplished is anyone’s guess.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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