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Shady tactics, using taxes

October 27, 2008

Would a government agency spend millions of dollars of your money on a fancy campaign with slick mailers and commercials to tell you how to vote? Not just how to vote, but how to vote on ballot measures that will increase your taxes -- to raise more money for that same agency?

Don't be ridiculous, and shame on you for even thinking it. That would be so incredibly illegal. No, agencies such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, even the city of Pico Rivera are spending millions of dollars of your money to tell you about their ballot measures, to tell you to vote on their ballot measures, but not to tell you to vote for their ballot measures.

So, you see, it was OK when the MTA spent more than $1 million to send voters a six-page, full-color brochure on shiny paper earlier this campaign season to tell them about Measure R, the half-cent sales tax hike for transportation projects. And the school district, also in a spirit of public service, is using voters' money to educate those same voters to "vote on Measure Q," the $7-billion construction bond. See? Not "vote for Measure Q." Incidentally, "Measure Q Improves School Safety." "Measure Q Improves the Learning Environment." And if you want kids to be safe and well-educated, well, you'll know what to do when you get into the voting booth. The district is just giving you the information.

Or maybe you're not buying it. Maybe you scoff at the lawyerly distinctions made between political advocacy pieces (sent out by privately funded campaigns) and the taxpayer-funded "informational" or "educational" mailers sent out by the agencies themselves. Maybe you're outraged to learn that the same agencies trying to convince you that they're properly using your tax money are in fact using some of it to get you to give them more.

Join the club. The MTA brochure may not have crossed the legal line, but it certainly broke faith with the public. MTA board members Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich put a stop to the "information" campaign, but they never liked Measure R. There's apparently no such conscience on the school board, whose members signed off on a campaign that's spending thousands of district dollars to distribute Measure Q caps and T-shirts on school campuses.

If the words "Measure Q" on T-shirts aren't meant to encourage people to vote yes, then surely all those lawn signs that say "Obama-Biden '08" are just there to let you know who's on the ballot. What nonsense. Voters may go for many of the local measures on the Nov. 4 ballot, but shady tactics with public money will just make it harder to win their trust the next time cities, school boards and other agencies come asking for more.

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