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How did it all begin? Local voters approved first parcel tax in 1984

By From page A16 | February 05, 2012

How did the long tradition of local parcel taxes supporting Davis schools begin?

The origins trace back to the late 1970s, when California had a young governor named Jerry Brown. Home prices around the state had been increasing, and as a result, property tax bills were going up.

California voters responded in June 1978 by approving Proposition 13, which rolled back property taxes to 1975 levels, and restricted future property tax increases to no more than 2 percent per year. Prop. 13 also imposed a requirement of a two-thirds majority of voters for approval of any new special taxes.

The financial impact on California school districts, which had depended on local property taxes for much of their revenue, was swift and severe. Waves of layoff notices were sent to teachers, and class sizes increased. The Davis school district sold its fleet of school buses and students were urged to ride bicycles or walk to their campuses.

Then, in 1983, a few California school districts tried to replace some of the lost property tax funding by asking local voters to approve a parcel tax in the form of a flat fee per home, assessed annually. Such a tax required a two-thirds majority for passage, which proved a high bar indeed. Of the seven local parcel tax measures put on the ballot by various California school districts in 1983, only three were approved.

The Davis school district put a parcel tax on the ballot in 1984. Measure K — the campaign motto was “K for Kids” — achieved a big majority, with 72.3 percent voting yes. It charged $45 per year per single-family home, and lasted four years.

The money was used to reduce class size at the elementary schools, add a seventh class period at the junior high and high school levels, and to support school nurses, psychologists, counselors and reading instructors.

Successor measures to Measure K have been placed before Davis voters at roughly four-year intervals since then. The amount charged per home has steadily increased, to the current $320 assessed under Measure C.

This measure replaces the expiring Measure Q, approved in 2007 at $200 per home, and Measure W, approved in 2008 at $120 per home. This supplemental tax was designed to offset some of the funds lost to state budget cuts and deferred payments.

As the nation’s economy sputtered and home prices fell, the state budget crisis went from bad to worse in 2009 and 2010, putting an enormous strain on California school districts. And as fate would have it, Jerry Brown onced again was elected as California’s governor.

The Davis school board turned to local voters in spring 2011 for a third parcel tax — Measure A, a two-year emergency measure, charging $120 per year per single-family home. It was decided in Davis’ first mail-only election and received a narrow victory, with 67.2 percent of voters saying yes.

Measure A will expire in June 2013.

Jeff Hudson

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