Los Angeles voters decisively reject parcel tax that would have raised $500 million annually for schools

June 5, 2019

Educators in the United Teachers Los Angeles union march for a new contract on Dec. 15, 2018.

Setting back efforts to restore Los Angeles Unified to financial health, voters have decisively rejected a tax on real estate which would have raised approximately $500 million annually for the state’s largest school district. 

With 100 percent of precincts reporting at 1 a.m. Wednesday, Measure EE won only 45.68 percent of the vote, with 54.32 percent against. That was more than 20 percentage points less than the two-thirds majority the parcel tax measure needed for passage.

The measure, which would have been in effect for 12 years, would have imposed a tax of 16 cents per square foot of interior space on residential and commercial property. The owner of a 2,000 square-foot-house would have paid $320 a year.

The overwhelming defeat of the measure represents a major setback to teachers and many other backers of the measure, including the Los Angeles school board and Mayor Eric Garcetti. The board voted unanimously in February to put Measure EE on the ballot in the wake of a teachers’ strike that attracted significant public support. The board commissioned a survey earlier this year that showed that more than two-thirds of respondents said they would support a 16 cents per square foot parcel tax. 

The results of that survey and the momentum from the teachers’ strike gave district leaders optimism that Measure EE could generate enough support to get over the high bar of a two-thirds majority vote. 

Among the many factors that contributed to the measure’s defeat was the strong opposition of several business organizations, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Despite the defeat, prominent supporters said they would not give up.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Garcetti said at a Tuesday night rally in Boyle Heights. “Pass or not, tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and continue that work.”

L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner spoke Wednesday at a press conference at Western Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. “The kids can’t wait any longer,” he said. “This is not the end, but rather the beginning of our fight to adequately fund public schools.”

At the same news conference, school board member George McKenna said the supporters of Measure EE “intend to be back again.”

“To reach out to our community and be rejected the way we were, I feel badly about it. But it doesn’t mean we quit. I’m a competitor,” he said. “I intend and we intend to be back again and try to be more persuasive.”

McKenna didn’t specify whether the board plans to bring another parcel tax to the ballot. Some members of the board previously advocated for waiting until 2020 to put the measure on the ballot, when turnout could be higher, particularly among liberal voters.

Another board member, Nick Melvoin, said in a statement Wednesday that he hopes the Measure EE coalition “doubles down on our efforts” but also called on supporters to “learn the lessons from yesterday’s defeat.”

“Voters believe LA Unified needs to do more to reform and improve outcomes for kids in addition to seeking increased investment,” he added.

Opponents of the measure celebrated Tuesday’s results.

“Yesterday, Los Angeles voters showed us they want absolute accountability and oversight when asked to approve impactful tax increases like Measure EE,” said Maria Salinas, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Failure to get voter approval of the tax could make it more difficult for the district to follow through on promises it made at the end of January’s teachers’ strike to hire additional support staff, reduce class sizes and increase teachers’ pay. The district has said the class-size reductions and the additional nurses, counselors and librarians that the district committed to will cost $403 million over the next three years.

The agreement between the district and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the teachers’ union, also called for giving teachers a 6 percent raise.

Concerns have already been raised about whether the district will be able to pay for the commitments it made in the contract. The Los Angeles County Office of Education said in a report to the district board earlier this year that the contract “is not sustainable on an ongoing basis.”

The tax measure was backed by district leaders as well as both union and charter supporters. Both major unions, the teachers’ union and Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents most of the district’s non-teaching employees, supported the measure. Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist, and the California Charter Schools Association also supported the tax.

In the voter’s guide, the argument in favor of the measure, signed by Garcetti and others, called the tax a “critical part of the solution to the public education funding crisis that was highlighted by the recent teachers strike.”

Several business groups, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, opposed the measure and mounted a campaign against it, arguing that district officials couldn’t be trusted to spend the money as they said they would.

The anti-measure statement in the ballot read in part: “DON’T BE FOOLED. Money from the tax won’t add resources to classrooms. It will be used to temporarily fix a budget deficit and to pay for LAUSD’s over-promised pension and health insurance costs.”

Tuesday’s vote marked the second time since 2010 that the district had failed to pass a parcel tax. The 2010 measure received less than 53 percent of voter support.

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