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Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Sales tax language must be honest

By From page A2 | March 11, 2014

Exactly one month ago today, the Davis City Council, in deciding to put a half-cent sales tax increase to a vote of the people, adopted some strange and deceptive language to put before the voters on the June ballot.
Listed as Measure O, the language states: “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the city of Davis to continue to collect a sales and use tax for general government purposes at the total rate of 1 percent through Dec. 31, 2020, be adopted?”
Note the word “continue,” which strongly suggests that a “yes” vote will merely sustain the status quo by extending a tax that is already in effect.
No mention anywhere of the half-cent increase we’re being asked to approve. Also no mention that the current half-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2016.
In other words, what we’re truly voting on here is extending our current half-cent tax a full four years past its scheduled expiration date, plus adding a new half-cent sales tax that also will run through 2020.
Why the council didn’t simply state those facts in plain, simple English is unclear. Maybe they think we’re stupid. Maybe they think we aren’t paying attention. Or maybe they hope they can slip this one past the censors with no one raising a red flag.
Apparently, enough of us complained about this abuse of the language that the council has been sent back to the drawing board after having been taken behind the woodshed by an angry electorate.
Tonight, in fact, the council will “consider amending the language of the ballot question for Measure O,” according to a staff report.
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee the council will do anything at all about its sleight-of-hand tactics.
Staff has given the council three options if it chooses to make things right with the voters. Sadly, only one of those three options — Option No. 2 — fully and accurately describes exactly what we’re being asked to approve come June 3.
Option No. 1, which staff recommends, fails to mention that the current half-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2016.
Option No. 3 states: “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the city of Davis to collect a sales and use tax for general government purposes at the total rate of 1 percent through Dec. 31, 2020, be adopted?”
No. 3 is accurate as far as it goes, but it fails to mention that we’re doubling our current city-imposed sales tax, and also fails to mention that the current tax is set to expire four years prior to 2020.
Option No. 2 tells us exactly what we’re authorizing, but its chances of passing are slim, perhaps because it’s so straightforward it might cause some citizens to vote “no.”
States Option No. 2: “Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the city of Davis to extend the existing half-cent sales and use tax for general government purposes and increase the sales and use tax by an additional half-cent, through Dec. 31, 2020, be adopted?”
Only Option 2 is honest about the fact we currently have a half-cent sales tax that must be extended or it will expire all on its own. Only Option 2 lays it out straight for the voters.
It’s anyone’s guess what the council will do — if anything — but as we all learned in kindergarten, honesty is the best policy.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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