COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | RICHARD RIDER

Chula Vista election great news

On May 5, a clear message was sent that voters will no longer obediently approve the politicians' tax increases. And that's great news!

Chula Vista city politicians held a special mail ballot election to raise the city sales tax an additional full 1 percent to 9.75 percent. In a dramatic turnaround from similar previous city sales tax elections around the county, the Chula Vista city politicos and employee labor unions got their collective keisters kicked, losing the vote by a lopsided 2-to-1 margin.

This defeat in the county's second largest city is all the more impressive because the other side had the public employee manpower and money to win easily -- in normal times. But these are no longer normal times.

Many factors came into play:

  • Perhaps the most important factor was the California statewide "temporary" sales tax increase. Currently the lowest sales tax rate in the county is 8.75 percent, up 1 percent from two months ago. Contrary to the dismissive "pennies per day" argument from elitist politicians, this super high sales tax is affecting everyone adversely in the teeth of a deep recession. Further sales tax increases are unacceptable to voters.

  • In a special election, voter turnout will be low. And that's not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to getting a knowledgeable vote on matters.

  • Even better, there were no candidates in this election. Many people go to the polls to vote for "their" candidate based on looks, race, gender, political party, religion, "aura" or whatever turns them on. Then, as an afterthought, such "cheerleader voters" vote on props about which they know little and care less.

  • This was a mail ballot election, further reducing the casual voters -- but not necessarily reducing voter "turnout." Over 27 percent of the electorate voted in this single-issue election, which is probably higher than if they had held the far more expensive precinct poll special election.

  • The people who voted in this election were interested only in the tax issue (not in candidate horse races) -- and were far better informed than those who didn't vote.

  • Unlike many such elections, there was significant though underfunded organized opposition. Local taxpayer activist Larry Breitfelder led the grassroots opposition, with some support from timid dissident city councilmember John McCann. In addition, the San Diego Lincoln Club joined with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association to mail out a superb opposition piece to 21,000 high-propensity voting households. Finally, the San Diego Union-Tribune came out strongly against the tax.

    The initial churlish response to voters from Mayor Cox was to cut services -- including police. Not considered were more meaningful fiscal reforms -- renegotiating the city's opulent labor contracts, new lower pension plans for new hires, requiring employee pension contributions to their pensions, or contracting out city operations. For now, the city is still run for the benefit of employees (and for the politicians), rather than for the citizens.

    But times have changed. Politicians need to understand the voters' clear message to control spending with existing taxes. Or else.


    Rider is chairman of the San Diego Tax Fighters.

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