Selling the City Sales Tax to get the drive going and over so f opposition won’t have time to form. Steve Matthews, executive director the TML, says the mailout from the leag on the local option sales tax law “is n to encourage or to discourage impleme tation of the law, but simply to assist loc officials and citizens in such implemen tion, after they have taken the initiativ The league’s packet alludes to “successf campaigns,” meaning ones that enact t sales tax, and argues without exception behalf of the sales tax. Austin Early in December, especially on December fifth, many Texas cities will vote in the second major round of city sales tax elections. If the trend from the first round is indicative, most of the local elections will add a one-cent sales tax on top of the two cents the state collects. However, opposition is now breaking out in four major cities Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. A poll by the Harris organization for the Texas AFL-CIO showed the sales tax to be a most unpopular one with a cross-section of voters, and it would stand to reason that it would be. What, then, accounts for the trend in the elections on the subject? , One factor may be presumed to be low turnout in an off year when people of low income are paying little or no attention to politics. Some of the turnouts in the elections making the sales tax part of a locality’s tax burden have been astonishingly email. Last week San Marcos passed it 634 to 134, Georgetown 167 to 101. However, there is also a carefully timed c and programmed outline for behind-the b scenes manipulation of public opinion that has been provided officials in all 1 member cities by the Texas Municipal 1 League. A copy of the booklet presenting f this program was provided the Observer when it lodged a request for information on the sales tax with the league; it follows h that any other Texas newspaper could get b a copy by asking for it, but judging from P the lack of publicity about this document, s no other Texas paper has. The existence of such an elaborate strategy for passage of local sales taxes suggests the distinct possibility that the first round of elections was designed to exclude large cities with strong liberal a movements, thus creating a mood favorle able to the tax for this second; really dec cisive round. The TML “information packet” tells h +1-1, u how to pass a sales tax. The implicit prem ise is the availability of plenty of money ” from private sources to fund a smooth, fast, and short campaign. The money d sources are not discussed, but the league ti tells officials of Texas cities a questionPl naire to Oklahoma cities produced the consensus opinions “that most help [in ti passing the city sales tax] came from one 0 or several of the following groups: cham. . ber of commerce, local merchants, professh sional people, and city employees” and to “that labor groups did not strongly oppl pose the tax,” as well as “that the cities all considered it advisable to hold the elec tion as soon after calling it as possible.” fr Accordingly, the league’s program is m blitz-like, with stress on billboards, news g i paper and TV advertising, public relations co agencies, and “grass-roots committees” wo whose leaders are “selected.” The idea is It sc co ast THE “TIMETABLE” provided of is illuminating. ue First, $1,000 to $3,000 is raised for “pre ot liminary expenses” and an “ad agency and npublic relations man” are selected. Proal grams before civic groups are arranged, tapress releases and “a color-slide, audioe.” visual presentation” are prepared, and the ul PR man “should also begin working on he … a basic speech for the ‘grassroots cornon mittee’ people.” Then, instructs this plan of action, “Select leaders for the ‘grassroots committee’ \(Committee to Protect Property Owners In the bob-tailed prose of PR documents, the plan of action continues: ” ‘Grassroots committee’ does mass mailing of letter calling for interested property owners to send in $1 and become members of the committee. The letter states that the purpose of the committee will be to find out some alternative to the ad valorem property tax, pointing out that the property owner is paying more than his share now. In this initial letter, the sales tax will not be mentioned. \(Mailing \( The italics are the In “mass meetings in areas of heaviest home ownership,” the “grassroots committee” signs up members, and “the sales tax is advocated from the floor, and resolutions are passed calling for a city sales tax election … Leaders of ‘grassroots committee’ appear before City Council … The City Council calls the election for the sales tax.” Then the hoop-la begins, press releases, letters to the editor, coffees, billboards, apparances on radio and TV programs. In “3rd PhaseLate … Advertising hits’ with full force.” It is clear that give or take details, many Texas cities have already been or are now arenas for such carefully staged presentations of the case for the city sales tax. The Oklahoma experience has held true generally in Texas neither labor nor liberal organizations have yet gathered themselves together to oppose the tax. The major exception has been Austin, where journalist Bo Byers led a dramatic opposition and the Austin American gave full, fair hearings to both sides. An AP survey early this month showed that the city sales tax “is expected to bring few immediate reductions in property tax rates. On the other hand, a survey shows, the tax has won approval in most instances when billed as a barrier against future increases in the property tax …” In Corpus Christi, where city officials promised a 10% property tax reduction if the sales tax was passed, the vote was 3-1 for it. El Paso passed it, 17-6, with only six of the 70 precincts, all of them on the MexicanAmericans’ south side, voting no, and now the El Paso finance manager says there are no plans to lower the property tax. In 10 The Texas Observer Evidently to head off the possibility of criticism, the league advises city attorneys, with respect to models of legal forms provided in the packet, to “re-copy” them ‘rather than simply tearing out and using the sample forms themselves.” Of responsibility for co-ordination of ‘successful sales tax campaigns,” the eague says, “Many city government staffs or local chambers of commerce are capable of fulfilling this obligation. Frequently, especially in the larger cities, the oordinator, as well as supplier of much f the finished promotional material, has een a private public relations or adverising consultant … The city may provide nformational services, but funds to promote public acceptance . .. should come rom other sources.” “… the city employees, who usually ave a direct or indirect personal stake in roadening the tax base, have been cited robably more frequently than any other ingle group as mainstays in an effective ampaign. In practically all campaigns hey have worked hard and have exerted ecisive influence on their neighbors and ther citizens,” the league says pointedly. Under the heading, “A plan of action for sales tax campaign,” \(a plan which the ague says was developed by a local hamber and is presented for illustration nly, with the league not suggesting its een advised how to proceed, with variaons for local conditions. “This campaign will require a greater egree of finesse in planning and execuon than the average bond issue,” the an begins. “Briefly, the strategy would aim at creaon of a Committee to Protect Property wners from Higher Property Taxes … . [I] t would have a hand-picked leaderip which could be trusted to coordinate the letter and to follow our lead cornetely when the sales tax campaign actuy begins. “Of course, all shots would be called om the beginning by an eightor tenan steering committee which should ben work immediately. This … steering mmittee would do its most important rk … before the election is ever called. would also direct, from behind the enes, the work of the large grassroots mmittee.”
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