3 critical components of a successful tax referendum

Patron Insight has helped hundreds of public entities raise new tax dollars – more than $7.2 billion in the last 10 years – and we’ve developed a surefire recipe that predicts election outcomes time and time again.

We have learned the following three things must be in place, or your tax initiative will fail:

  1. People have to believe you are doing a good job with the money they’ve already committed to you. If folks aren’t happy  with the work you’re doing, they will never agree to give you more money.
  2. Your patrons have to be paying attention. If you are never on the “radar screen” of your taxpayers, they won’t care enough to listen to you, let alone vote for your new tax plan.
  3. Voters need to like your new ideas well enough to pay for them. This is usually where the rubber meets the road. If you tell  people you need a new jail, community center, or fire station, for example – and it will cost them an additional $100 per year for the next 20 years – you must make certain they agree this expenditure is critical for the community.

So, how do you know if these three critical components are in place? You don’t. Nobody does. You can’t possibly know what’s in the hearts and minds of everyone you provide services for.

In most cases, you hear from the 10 percent of people who love you and support everything you do. And you hear from the 10 percent of people who disagree with everything you do and any tax increase you suggest.

It’s the “silent” majority – 80 percent of the community – who are the great unknown. They have an opinion, which will influence whether they vote and how they vote. The problem is nobody has ever asked their opinion.

Patron Insight recommends a statistically accurate telephone survey about six to nine months before an election to discover where people stand on the three critical factors. Our survey process has a margin of error factor of only 5 percent, so you are working with viable data about your patrons.

Once you know where you stand, you know what you need to do to pass a referendum. It’s that simple and straightforward.

The worst thing that can happen to you isn’t losing an election – it’s losing an election without knowing why you lost.

With pre-election research, you’ll know – months before the election – whether or not you are positioned to win and what you need to do to ultimately find success at the ballot box.