Corcoran sales tax postcard

This is an image of the postcard being distributed around Corcoran by supporters of Measure A, the proposed sales tax increase voters will decide on Tuesday. The flier repeatedly refers to the proposed hike as a "one cent" increase.

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HANFORD – Corcoran residents will step into polling booths Tuesday and decide whether to approve a 1 percent sales tax increase that will go to city government.

At least one Corcoran resident thinks there may be confusion about what the proposal, called Measure A, really is.

In the ballot language voters will see when they cast their vote Tuesday, the measure is described as a "1 cent general sales and use tax."

That reference to the tax being one penny is repeated four times on a full-color postcard paid for by a group called "Corcoran Citizens for Measure A" that's being distributed to residents.

The postcard includes a large photo of a penny with the date June 6, 2017, on it – the date of the election.

On a "Frequently Asked Questions" sheet put out by city leaders, under the first question listed: "What is Measure A?", the measure is described as a "1 cent Transaction and Use Tax."

Under the second question on the sheet - "How is this different from existing sales taxes?" - it refers to the tax as a "1 [percent] Transaction and Use Tax."

Reached by phone, Corcoran City Manager Kindon Meik clarified that, if it passes Tuesday, Measure A will raise the sales tax rate in Corcoran from 7.25 percent per transaction to 8.25 percent per transaction.

If, say, Measure A passed and went into effect, and you bought a $10 pizza at Pirate Pizza in Corcoran, you'd pay 83 cents in sales taxes on the purchase rather than 73 cents - in other words, 10 cents more than you'd pay now.

Buy a car for $10,000 at Corcoran Auto Sales, and the difference would be $100 more in sales taxes paid if Measure A became law.

Corcoran resident Betsy Champ said it's confusing for Measure A promotional materials to describe the proposal as a one-penny increase in some instances, but refer to it as a 1 percent increase in other instances.

"I think that any city that portrays it as a 1 cent tax is misleading [people]," Champ said.

Champ said she was leaning toward voting "yes" on the measure, but is so irritated by the discrepancy, she's now leaning toward voting "no."

"It just strikes me as more political hoodwinking," she said.

To pass on Tuesday, the measure needs the support of 50 percent plus one of Corcoran voters.

Meik said there is no intention on the part of the city to mislead the public.

He said cities up and down the state of California have used virtually the same language Corcoran leaders are using when promoting their proposed sales tax increase.

"This is no different marketing than any other city has done," he said.

Meik said other cities also refer to proposed increases as "1 cent increases" when, in fact, they are 1 percent increases.

"It's 1 cent per taxable dollar," Meik said.

Turns out Meik is right about other cities using the same strategy as Corcoran.

"You'll see it in most of the [sales tax increase] measures, and there are hundreds of them," said Michael Coleman, fiscal policy adviser for the California League of Cities. "It's very commonly done."

Coleman said that in the city of Davis, someone filed a lawsuit against city leaders over the issue.

The lawsuit alleged it was misleading to refer to a proposed 1-percent-per-transaction increase as a one-penny increase.

Coleman said the court ruled in favor of the city of Davis.

"It's a perfectly legitimate way of doing things," he said.

However, Coleman said that if cities were "being accurate entirely, they should just use the term 1 percent rather than 1 cent."

Locally, the situation brings to mind Hanford's Measure S, the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase that died because 56 percent of Hanford voters rejected it in November 2014.

Former Hanford Mayor Dan Chin, who was active in the campaign against Measure S, said supporters and opponents of the measure both referred to it as a 1 cent increase.

"Most people don't understand percents anyway," he said.

Chin's recollection of how it went down was backed up by Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever.

"I think [Measure S] was described as one cent," said Sever, who campaigned for Measure S. "That's what I remember."

More recently, in the case of Measure K, the proposed Kings Countywide sales tax measure that failed to pass twice in 2016, the discrepancy issue never came up.

The reason it didn't come up is that Measure K technically wasn't a sales tax increase.

It would simply have kept the sales tax rate in Kings County at 7.5 percent going into 2017 and devoted a quarter percent for new equipment and personnel for local police and fire departments.

A law that temporarily set the rate at 7.5 percent expired at the end of 2016, causing the rate to revert on Jan. 1 back to the 7.25 percent rate that was in effect before the law was passed.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

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