The Fresno Chamber of Commerce is opposing Measure P, the three-eighths cent sales tax measure designed to increase funding for parks and arts.
The Chamber’s opposition tells me the upcoming City Council races finally have a polarizing issue that, should the candidates bite, would give the voters a truly distinct choice.
Chamber President/Chief Executive Nathan Ahle on Friday issued a two-paragraph written statement explaining his organization’s position on the Nov. 6 ballot measure.
“While we are opposed to this particular measure, we are supportive of Fresno’s parks,” Ahle said. “Our organization believes strongly in the importance of both parks and public safety funding. We urged those advocating for these sectors of our city budget to work together on a joint measure that would address both needs and make a fundamental shift in keeping Fresno safe while providing our residents with a world-class parks system. The Chamber wants to enthusiastically support such a plan. Sadly, no compromise was reached.”
Ahle continued: “We do not believe a proposal that addresses only one of these problems while committing Fresnans to 30 years of higher taxes is a prudent move. We hope voters will recognize this and challenge our community and its leaders to join us in developing a more complete solution in the coming years.”
By way of quick background, Measure P is the Fresno for Parks-backed initiative that would boost the local sales tax by three-eighths of a cent for 30 years. The measure right out the chute would generate an estimated $37.5 million per year for parks construction, parks maintenance and parks programs. The money would also fund various artistic programs.
There’s a lot of organizational complexity to Measure P, but its basic premise is simple: Parks are important to a community; City Hall doesn’t have enough general fund money to pay for a first-class parks system; a dedicated revenue stream based on sales taxes is the answer.
The Fresno for Parks advocacy group got enough voter signatures to put its plan on the Nov. 6 ballot. Success requires two-thirds voter approval.
Mayor Lee Brand’s premise is simple, too. The Parks system is a City of Fresno department. More than one City Hall department needs more money to be truly first-class. This is especially true for public safety – police and fire protection. It’s difficult under the best of conditions to get voters to approve a single sales tax initiative, let alone a string of them. For that reason, it is irresponsible to the public welfare, the commonweal, to put before the voters a sales tax initiative authored by special interests that serves only one part of the people’s government.
Brand at one point this summer pitched a half-cent public safety-parks initiative, then withdrew it when it became clear he didn’t have sufficient City Council support. However, the issue remains of primary interest to him. The Mayor has already said he opposes Measure P because its overly narrow focus is damaging in the long run to a city with great potential yet many other needs.
Former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin supports Measure P. Her charisma and stature are sure to be major factors in the fall campaign. Resources from her current employer, the Central Valley Community Foundation (where she is president/CEO), figure to be as important to the campaign as they were to the signature-gathering effort.
The stage is set for a campaign of starkly contrasting views and no place for opinion-shapers to hide. One side says we’ve got a chance to makes parks/arts flush, and the rest of City Hall can pursue its own destiny. The other side says that’s no way to act in a lifeboat.
Chamber President Ahle’s statement is the first public declaration for the latter point of view.
Now, a strong case can be made for each side. That’s good. That’s American democracy at its best. And the interesting thing about the pros and cons of Measure P is that to dip your toe into the debate is to inevitably immerse yourself in all the nuances of City Hall policy. For example, Measure P features a parks commission that would have considerable oversight authority. Would Measure P essentially gut the authority of the current Parks Department? Another example: An opponent of Measure P might say he wants a sales tax initiative that funds both public safety and parks. But might not Fresno be better served by an initiative that funds public safety, parks andinfrastructure improvements such as roads?
Fresno voters this fall have three contested City Council seats before them. There’s Miguel Arias vs. Tate Hill in District 3, Luis Chavez (incumbent) vs. Paula Yang in District 5 and Brian Whelan vs. Nelson Esparza in District 7.
All are for safety and prosperity. All are against crime and despair. We get it. Generalities are safe.
But where does each candidate stand on Measure P? How does each candidate see the impact of a successful Measure P on the overall operations of Fresno’s municipal government? What would each candidate say to the idea of special interest groups “capturing” other City Hall departments and providing them with marching orders? How would each candidate craft a new service-funding sales tax initiative should Measure P fail?
Voters would listen long and hard to the answers. That could upend overly confident campaigns based only on identity politics.
The Fresno Chamber of Commerce on Friday kicked off Campaign 2018 in a grand way.