Part 3: Myths and facts about passing a tax initiative

This is the final segment of our three-part myths and facts series.

MYTH: Everyday terms like, “It’ll only cost the same as one pizza a month” make it easier for voters to (I’m so sorry) swallow the proposal.

FACT: Just lay out the dollars and cents, preferably the annual cost for the owner of a typically priced home in the district.

We have conducted extensive post-loss surveys that clearly show when the district uses monthly or daily costs or tries to equate the costs of a ballot issue to something inexpensive, voters routinely tell us they felt like they were being duped. This is not our opinion. This is solid data accumulated over 11 years.

If a campaign that used such a tactic was successful, our suspicion is it was in spite of trying to find a simple, frivolous way to take a serious subject and make it seem more palatable.

Why is this wrong?

First, it takes the focus off of where it should be – on how the referendum will benefits students, families, staff and the community, by talking about pizzas. It almost sounds like a fundraiser. And anyone who wants to foist another one of those on parents raise your hand. Anybody?

Second, it deals with replacement rather than investment. Instead of buying that pizza, think of the children. Again, you are taking a simple message and gumming it up with this presto change act.

Third, and most importantly, this approach assumes equality. Not everyone in your community makes a regular Starbucks run, has a family pizza night, or takes in a movie once a month. Assuming they do put the school district into the “they just don’t get me” category, this casts a negative tone over the population that fits this description.

So, how should you state the cost?

  • Provide an annual or monthly tax increase – not both – and don’t pick monthly just because the number looks smaller. Use if it fits with your past presentations on such a subject. Otherwise, use the annual number.
  • State the market value for those owners of an average value home. Here’s where it is best to pick a round number ($150,000) rather than the exact average value, which could be something squirrelly like $141,312. Make it easy for people to do the math for their home.
  • In brochures or other large form informational pieces, say, “If your home value is higher, your tax increase will be more. If your home value is lower, your tax increase will be less.”

Patron Insight started doing this when an unusually high (two or three on one survey is unusually high to us) number of people said either, “Why do people who only live in $150,000 homes have to pay?” or “I don’t know anyone who lives in a home that is exactly $150,000.”

The bottom line is a pre-election planning survey is a no-brainer expense that will help you pass your ballot issue. Our success rate on predicting election outcomes is 97% accurate. Again, that’s solid data – not a pie in the sky.