Two Davis men filed a lawsuit last week against the city’s proposed sales tax increase, adding legal drama to the city’s election effort to cover a more than $5 million deficit.
The increase is known as Measure O on the June 3 ballot, and would — all told — raise the city’s sales tax from 8 percent to 8.5 percent.
Roughly 6.5 percent of that tax is mandated to go to state coffers, with another state-required tax of 1 percent to go to city coffers. A previous city sales tax added another 0.5 percent to make the city’s current sales tax 8 percent in total. The city is asking for an additional 0.5 percent sales tax to be added, along with extending the life of the old 0.5 percent sales tax to 2020, instead of 2016.
One central issue in the lawsuit, filed by Jose Granda and Thomas Randall Jr., is in the wording of the city’s ballot measure language, particularly in the use of the term “half cent” versus “half percent.”
Granda and Randall argue that saying a tax is a half-cent tax instead of a 0.5 percent tax is misleading to the voters and should be struck down by the court.
“These are two completely different things,” the lawsuit reads. “It conveys (to) the voter that no matter what you buy, even a $30,000 car purchase or a $30 shirt currently you pay only one ‘half cent,’ while the reality is that a $30,000 car purchase (you) will pay one half of one percent (0.5 percent) or $150 and for the shirt you will pay $0.15.”
The issue may or may not have legal weight. The city of Woodland has a similarly worded tax on the ballot for its voters and has so far not drawn a lawsuit.
“Shall Ordinance No. 1558 which would authorize the city of Woodland to continue to collect a one-quarter cent sales tax for general city services, for a period of eight years, and would not increase taxes, be adopted?”
This is Davis’ Measure O ballot language:
“Shall Ordinance No. 2432, which would authorize the city of Davis to reauthorize and 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, for a combined one cent tax, through December 31, 2020, be adopted?”
Harriet Steiner, city attorney for Davis, said she was confident the court would not find merit with the lawsuit.
“We think that the sales tax measure is clear,” she said, adding the term one cent or percent was interchangeable in the minds of voters. “… The sales tax is described the same way it was described the last time it went to the voters.”
Granda and Randall also allege the city’s changing of the ballot language from use of the word “continue” in a previous ballot description of Measure O adopted in February. The council changed that language a month later based on what city staff said were resident concerns about the clarity of the language.
Granda and Randall also fault The Davis Enterprise for temporarily publishing a slightly different version of the ballot language than was enacted by the council in March.
“The public has been bombarded with conflicting information as to the amount of the tax, presented with six different versions of the ballot question all reported (in) The Davis Enterprise, the Davis major newspaper,” the lawsuit reads.
— Reach Dave Ryan at 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews