Politics

Fresno St. stadium tax gets a letter – E – and kicks off with plug for academics

The ballot measure to pay for major upgrades to Fresno State’s academic and athletic facilities officially has a name. It’s Measure E.

Measure E proponents kicked off their public campaign Tuesday morning at Fresno State, pushing for the benefits of academic facility improvements while steering clear of discussing renovations for Valley Children’s Stadium. 

Last week, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors placed Measure E on the November ballot after Fresno County Clerk James Kus certified over 28,000 signatures. 

Measure E, officially called the California State University Fresno Facility and Academic Program Improvement Initiative, would impose a 0.2 percent sales tax on Fresno County residents that would last for a 20-year term. 

The exception to the tax is the City of Reedley, which would have its sales tax rate only raised by 0.025 percent. 

At least two-thirds of the money would be required to be utilized for academic improvements, while the other third would be allowed for athletics improvements, such as the aging Valley Children’s Stadium. 

The expected revenue is $36 million annually and $720 million over the life of the term.

Measure E needs a majority vote in November to pass. 

Tuesday’s press conference, hosted by former Sanger Unified School District Superintendent Marc Johnson, marked the beginning of the public campaign to get Measure E passed in November. 

“In my role as superintendent, as an educator in this Valley, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that Fresno State has for our children, especially the children from our rural areas. For so many of them they lack a vision of the future, and this place becomes that lighthouse,” Johnson said. 

“This place helps them develop the connections and that vision. And as educators, as teachers, administrators, business and industry leaders, as community leaders, we continuously engage in conversations about ways to lift up our valley, and it always comes back to one thing: education. Education is the only real key.” 

Proponents tied the measure to Measure Z, the 2004 initiative which enacted a 0.1 percent sales tax to benefit the Fresno Chafee Zoo’s capital improvements and operations. 

Johnson also spoke to the need for the tax measure, since state funding through the California State University system has been inadequate and Fresno State’s inability to pass a bond measure like other local education systems have. 

“The difference here from K-12 and community college – unlike those systems, Fresno State does not have the ability to pass a bond. When I was superintendent and we needed to supplement our available funding, we would reach out to our community and bond so that we would have the additional funds necessary,” Johnson said. 

“We were able to do that because we had a district boundary, a defined group of stakeholders who would share that burden. Universities have no district boundary, and therefore they lack the ability to bond. They lack the ability to supplement that funding. This measure is a creative way to overcome that deficit. This measure is the right way to approach and support our university.” 

Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino endorsed Measure E and spoke to the facility improvements needed on campus to serve the local population. 

“Our kids need an opportunity to have a college right here in the Valley that they can attend, one that will allow facility space to expand,” Yovino said. 

While Tuesday’s focus was on the academic improvements that Measure E could provide, nothing was said about the estimated $240 million that could be used to improve the university’s athletics facilities. 

So far, Fresno State has failed to renovate the 42-year-old Valley Children’s Stadium. 

While the university cannot officially back the ballot measure, any hopes under the athletic department’s current trajectory to renovate the football stadium could be dashed if it does not pass in November. 

The university and Athletic Director Terry Tumey have not publicized any renovation plans, and unlike other schools across the country – including rival San Diego State and brand new Snapdragon Stadium – finding private money through boosters has not happened. 

Measure E critics, including local conservative group the Fresno County Lincoln Club, have asked why taxpayers should be expected to foot the bill for the needed stadium renovations when such efforts have been funded privately across the national collegiate landscape. 

After the press conference, Tim Orman – the former chief of staff for Fresno Mayors Lee Brand and Jerry Dyer who has been tasked with leading the Measure E effort – pointed to academics as being the true focus of Measure E, and that Valley Children’s Stadium would not necessarily be the chief benefactor. 

“The vast majority of this – two-thirds of it or more – is intended for academics, legally required by the two-thirds mandate, so that’s going to be the focus,” Orman said. “At most a third could go to women’s and men’s athletic facilities, which include Bulldog Stadium (Valley Children’s Stadium). The basketball program needs assistance. The volleyball program needs a facility. Basketball doesn’t have any place to practice when Save Mart’s being used for something else. They don’t have another place on campus to practice, so they need something. All the athletic programs have needs here and there.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.