Whether you are an ISD or HSD, it is heartbreaking to lose a tax election. A Louisiana School system in an urban area lost their election on November 18 by 484 votes. They would have reaped $27 million per year for 10 years if they had won. They missed revenue of $270 million. The question is why doesn’t’ the community support a school or hospital tax?
TCI has won schools and hospital elections for 15 years and I am not going to discuss the obvious reasons that public institutions lose—lack of turnout, public lacked information to make a decision, strong anti-tax sentiment, complicated ballot language, and short time frame for public outreach and discussion.
Here are the Less Obvious Reasons:
1. Lack of Information on the Use of Funds from Previous Tax Elections.
Voters are more likely to support the system that appears to be good stewards of public funds. The operative phrase, “Appears to Be.” Perception is reality in the public sector.
2.Support From Coalitions of People in the Community.
Who is likely to support the tax? Use targeting and form a coalition of likely supporters. For schools, leaders must go beyond the teachers, principals and motivated parents – the traditional supporters.
When to put your proposition on the ballot is an important decision. Some variables to consider:
– Favorability of voters to your proposal
– If higher or lower turnout would be desired
– Other likely propositions on the ballot
– Cost of placing your proposition on the ballot
4. Trust in the Leadership.
Citizens vote favorably if they believe that the funds will be used for the stated purpose. This brings the trust factor into the equation. Sometimes trust in the school or hospital leader is good but distrust in other governmental officials can play into the trust factor.
5. Use of Funds Aligns with Wants and Needs of the Community.
Alignment is critical for a winning vote. Research can determine if there is alignment. Going forward without research is very risky. Some uses of funds may make sense to board members and the leadership but not with voters.
6. Message Saturation.
Competition for attention of the voters is fierce and exists on all media platforms. Unless the citizens hear and understand the message, the anti-tax bias will prevail. Message saturation is dependent on budgeting. If a school board will receive $27 million per year for 10 years that is $270 million, what is a reasonable amount to spend to inform the public? In what time period should that amount be paid? Smart institutions budget for more than one year.
These are some points to ponder when an election has been lost or when a public body is considering and election. TCI is an excellent resource to public entities and all inquires are confidential.