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By Jorge Casuso
March 18, 2019 -- A ballot measure sponsored by Santa Monica Senator Ben Allen that would lower the threshold for approval of parcel taxes is awaiting referral to a committee, his office said Monday.
Introduced in December, Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 would dramatically improve the chances for school parcel taxes to be approved by lowering the threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent of the vote.
The measure was introduced after 21 of the 26 parcel tax measures introduced in California between 2012 and 2017 were rejected by voters.
In the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Schoool District (SMMUSD) -- which typically sees overwhelming support for school bonds and taxes -- two of the five parcel tax measures introduced since 2000 have failed.
“This is all about the right of local voters in a local community to make the decision that fits best for their community,” said Allen, a former school board member. “If folks want to invest more in schools and provide students with enhanced educational resources, they should be able to do so.
"It is not right or fair that a small minority of the population can block the will of the majority, as is the case under the current system," Allen said. "The two-thirds vote requirement is anti-democratic and should be done away with, especially for schools.”
Between 2002 and 2018, 266 of 427 proposed parcel taxes in California passed, according to Ed Resource, which provides education information, research and analysis.
Under the proposed threshold, 389 of those would have been approved.
In the SMMUSD, the two parcel taxes that failed since 2000 -- Measure EE, an annual $300-per-parcel tax in November 2002, and Measure A, a $198-per-parcel tax in May 2010 -- would have easily won under the proposed threshold.
During the same period local voters passed Measure Y, an annual $98-per-parcel tax that was continued for ten years in 2000; Measure S, an annual $225 parcel tax for six years approved in 2003 and Measure R, an annual $346-per-parcel tax renewal with no sunset provision approved in 2008.
Since then, SMMUSD voters have approved both bond measures placed on the ballot -- Measure BB, a $268 million bond in 2006, and Measure ES, a $385 million measure, in 2012.
Last November, Santa Monica voters overwhelmingly approved a record $485 million bond to upgrade and replace outdated facilities in the city's district schools.
Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo, a co-sponsor of the measure, says the parcel tax option is needed “despite significant increases in state funding for schools in recent years."
Districts, he said, "are struggling to maintain quality educational services and programs amid escalating costs and declining enrollment.
“Teacher layoffs or furloughs and cut programs are among the results," Hill said. “Parcel taxes are one of the few means school districts have to supplement their funding.”
To be eligible for the state ballot, SCA 5 must pass each house of the Legislature with a two-thirds vote. The legislation does not require the governor’s signature.
If passed by the Legislature, the measure could reach the state ballot as early as 2020 and would need a simple majority vote to win.
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