Measure U takes effect Saturday…no fooling

By Kyle Selby / The Valley Chronicle
CARTOON OF THE WEEK: Hemet City Council

Dear Readers,
Pranks are going to be played in full force on Saturday. I’m sure my kids will try to pull a couple on me – my daughter has been planning one for a solid week. But perhaps the biggest one of all, perpetrated upon the citizens of Hemet, will be the implementation of Measure U. No fooling. This 10-year, 1 percent increase in the sales and use tax is expected to generate $10 million annually, with a net effect of an 8.33 percent reduction in taxable revenue from the local economy – local business owners who can scarcely afford the hit.
Many businesses in the valley are barely surviving on a day-to-day basis. Many seniors are faced with hard choices every month. Which expense category will suffer – medicine, rent or “extras” such as eating out or entertainment? This isn’t Riverside or Temecula – this is Hemet, with a 26 percent poverty rate and a median income of about $32,000.
When addressing the public, sales tax backers are frequently encouraged to put the annual cost in simple, friendly sounding terms that usually begin with “it’s only.” “It’s only a few cents a day,” or “it’s only a few dollars per month.” Officials try to make it sound like the coming sales tax increase is trivial and that anyone who is opposed must be a cheapskate or doesn’t care about public safety.
It’s NOT just a penny. It’s a LOT of pennies. Every penny taken out of a family or individual’s budget means less disposable income. Less disposable income, no matter how slight, makes a difference in spending habits. And that difference may mean not eating out anymore, or taking the kids bowling, or to the movies, or getting those extra niceties such as visits to your favorite salon or not so many trips to the local coffee shop…which hurts the bottom line of our small business people. Your neighbors and friends.
Local governments also frequently hire expensive consultants (at taxpayer expense) to tell them the best way to pass a sales tax. This happened here, with the hiring of several consultants – one of whom had no experience in dealing with law enforcement agencies. How much of your tax money was spent on this? About $100,000. Who were the top donors to the campaign? The same people whose businesses aren’t affected by a sales tax increase…doctors, attorneys, physician groups, and law enforcement/public safety personnel.
Are we against law enforcement and public safety? Absolutely not. We respect the men and women who risk their lives daily, and we thank them. We pray for them. We pray for this town to turn around.
Since it is illegal for local officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a ballot measure, consultants frequently counsel sales tax supporters on the best way to wage “information” or “education” campaigns. This often means putting up signs or sending out material stating all the “good things” a sales tax would do, but stopping just short of telling people how to vote. These tactics sometimes occur even before a tax is officially placed on the ballot, as we witnessed with the social media and sign blitzes waged during the Measure E, and subsequently, Measure U campaigns.
Sales tax supporters also like to frequently engage in scare tactics to enhance their chances of passing a tax measure. Such scare tactics are frequently observed with sales tax measures for public safety, transportation, and public health. We saw it happen when our police and fire chiefs talked to senior communities about passing the tax – in uniform – a violation of the Hatch Act. Taxpayers should neither tolerate nor be intimidated by such scare tactics. But you were.
And, you were also promised that the money will only be spent on public safety…and in fact…all the council members signed a statement to that effect. However, the reality (and legality) of this is simple. The money is going into the General Fund and can legally be spent in any way the council wishes – no matter what they promised. Every news article states this fact. They can appropriate the money for new landscaping or even overpay for city vehicles…no problem. The fact that they have appointed an “oversight committee” that is populated by the very same people who donated large sums of money or have a financial interest – such as lucrative vehicle contracts with the city – should be alarming. This is not oversight. This is the fox guarding the henhouse.
When 2027 rolls around when Measure U is set to expire, I’ll bet they will try to extend it. For Hemet’s sake, I hope it’s worth it and turns the city around. I hope more businesses will keep their doors open and fewer of the ever-present Rosenthal & Excell “for lease or sale” commercial real estate signs and blighted buildings will be seen around town.
Keep an eye on your officials. It’s your money…not theirs. The Valley Chronicle shouldn’t know more than our elected officials about where and how your money is spent. But we will keep informing the citizens. Demand it goes where promised.

Mary Ann Morris,
Editor of The Valley Chronicle Newspaper

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