Note: after a WordPress update, many typos were introduced into the text. Care has been taken to remedy this, but if some were missed we apologize.
The last time a TOT increase was on the ballot was Nov. 2, 2004, and it received just under 42% of the vote. At that time a brave little campaign was mounted by some of the Calaveras Wine industry’s most prominent members on its behalf, mostly consisting of meetings with local groups, but curiously it still failed.
So, what happened this time? Was this expected? Who saw this coming? Because this time, a ballot measure to increase the Calaveras County TOT didn’t just pass, it received 64 percent of the vote.
To take the last question first, almost nobody saw it coming.
The Professional Political Consulting Firm that polled the County told the Board of Supervisors that the measure could pass with a simple majority, but not a super-majority (two-thirds) of the vote. That turned out to be wrong.
The only other place to look is the Skull Survey, an average of the predictions of a panel of political observers, which, on its website predicted the Measure would pass, but only with 52.4 percent.
Indeed, the best prediction on the Skull Survey Panel on the TOT Measure was made by Pelican (not a real pelican, this is a nom de’ plume), who estimated it would pass with 58%. That’s the best estimate, and it was still over 5% wrong and well over the average error for the Survey in total. So, the weight of the evidence is that nobody saw this coming.
So that brings us to the last question, what happened this time?
Let’s round up the suspects and take a look at each one.
Theory 1: Energized progressives turned out in greater numbers and voted for the Measure.
This possibility was suggested before the election but not after. The theory was that Democrats and Progressive voters, who presumably would be more amenable to the measure, would turn out in greater numbers due to national political issues, and that this would give the Measure just enough additional support to put it over the line.
The Calaveras County Jessica Morse for Congress campaign was well-financed and fueled by countless hours of work performed by dedicated and ardent volunteers. And the efforts paid off somewhat, as the Morse campaign ran about 5 or 6 percent ahead of the other Democrats on the ballot. But even if every Morse voter also voted for the TOT, this still leaves us some 24 percentage points short of the 64% the TOT increase received.
Theory 2: After the Great Recession and the ensuing economic recovery, voters were prepared to raise taxes, as evidenced by election results elsewhere.
Election results clearly indicate that voters in Calaveras County, in general, were more inclined to pass tax increases than in previous years. In California this trend was also seen.
Whether it’s because America is being made great again, or a collapse in Republican orthodoxy and discipline, clearly the political zeitgeist was working on behalf of the TOT Measure this time.
Theory 3: Nobody was publicly against it.
Political observers remember that the 2004 campaign regarding the TOT faced the opposition of Libertarian Party Champion and Third District Supervisor Tom Tryon, as well as opposition from many in the Republican Party, and of course the expected open opposition of the Hotel industry.
But this time around Tom Tryon was no longer Supervisor, and the Republican Party went silent on the Measure. To be sure, a spirited little fight, at least in the Voter Pamphlet, was put up by the hotels again this year, but evidently it didn’t punch through.
Theory 4: Supposedly neutral Ballot language and the County website were effective in promoting the Measure.
The Measure appeared on the ballot like this:
CALAVERAS COUNTY ESSENTIAL SERVICES MEASURE. Shall the measure to maintain and improve essential Calaveras County services including emergency fire district response and protection, Sheriff’s patrols helping prevent thefts/burglaries, road/pothole repairs, attracting/retaining businesses and other County services and infrastructure by increasing the transient occupancy tax (paid only by hotel/motel/short-term rental guests) from 6% to 12%,providing approximately $600,000 annually until ended by voters, with audits,and all funds used locally, be adopted?
If you did not read the Ballot Statement with care, and only skimmed the Sample Ballot, you may be excused for thinking there wasn’t any TOT increase on the ballot, just something about Fire Protection and Sheriff’s patrols. Who isn’t for more of that?
Many observers think this is the definitive reason.
Advocates of this theory are basically saying that this time the voters were fooled by clever ballot language, and maybe even shady practices on the County website, regarding Measure G.
What was Measure G you ask? That’s precisely their point!
What was this clever ballot language? As mentioned, mostly for what it did not say, at least not until most people had stopped reading!
An interesting side note: advocates of previous failed attempts to increase the TOT would always bemoan the fact that somehow they just couldn’t seem to make it clear to Conservative voters that they themselves would not have to pay the tax, and that it had nothing to do with feeding or sheltering scary homeless people.
But this time, if anything, efforts to make this point were even less vigorous, and the Measure passed overwhelmingly. So, it would appear that, in fact, Republican and Libertarian voters aren’t dumb. They may very well have understood all along, in 2004, that locals would not have to pay. But they voted against it anyway, probably because they were against “government” and didn’t want it to have any more money.
What changed with Conservative voters this year?
Theory 5: This time, with 64% voting Yes, lots of Republicans voted to increase the TOT. Even if you add up all the registered Democrats (27%), all the registered No Party People (23%), and all the fringe, you’re still talking about a lot of registered Republicans voting Yes.
Missed by this writer prior to the election, is the role played by Commercial Marijuana, the County budget, and the resulting budget politics, in influencing the TOT vote.
Although it is possible to quote different public officials expressing varying degrees of confidence in the viability of the County’s finances, for those who are on either side of the debate over regulation of commercial marijuana the issue is strongly politicized, to wit:
Advocates of re-regulating commercial marijuana contend that current spending levels are unsustainable, and that the only viable solution,short of deep cuts across the board that may include public safety, is to collect taxes from commercial marijuana activities. At least publicly, advocates of commercial marijuana regulation were apparently largely indifferent to Measure G.
On the other hand, opponents of commercial marijuana,consisting largely of elements of the Republican Party (cultural conservatives and evangelicals), understood that increased TOT revenues helped their narrative that the County budget was solvent enough without resorting to commercial marijuana regulation and taxation. Thus, the strongest opponents of re-regulating commercial marijuana, who previously could be counted on to vote against the TOT, this year had every incentive to vote for it.
Next time: The Sheriff’s race.