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Americans want to support veterans. Fresno leaders say voters have a chance this fall

The Fresno Bee - 7/25/2022

Fresno voters will decide in November whether to support a proposed sales tax that would raise money for veterans facilities and services.

The Fresno City Council unanimously approved submitting the measure, tentatively dubbed Measure V, on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

It would require yes votes from two-thirds of voters, or 66.6%, to pass.

Measure V is proposed as a 0.125% sales tax, or one-eighth of a percent, on sales of taxable goods and services in the city.

If approved, the tax would amount to an extra 1.25 cents on a $10 sale, or 12.5 cents to a $100 purchase, in addition to other existing state and local sales taxes.

The tax would remain in place for 20 years, said Alex Tavlian, a political strategist and consultant working with the city on the proposal.

Over that time, the tax would generate an estimated $19.5 million each year, to be used for such efforts as affordable housing, job training and placement, reducing homelessness and other services, according to the ballot language.

It would also help pay for rehabilitating existing veterans facilities such as the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in downtown Fresno or VFW or American Legion halls.

“We’ve been working on this for a couple of months,” Councilmember Luis Chavez said Thursday. “We started off with this late last year trying to figure out what this would look like for the city of Fresno. I’m happy to report that we now have an initiative that’s ready to go on the ballot with some language that we feel will be supported” by Fresno voters.

“What this will mean for our veterans is support services in the areas of housing, making sure that veterans are not homeless, mental health services, substance abuse counseling (and) psychological assistance for our folks who come back” suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, Chavez added.

In its resolution putting Measure V on the ballot, the city estimates that there are about 20,000 veterans living in Fresno, and about 40,000 across Fresno County.

“Many veterans in the city suffer from some service-related disability and/or homelessness, joblessness or being low income,” the resolution states. “Veterans facilities like the Fresno Memorial Auditorum and the various veterans … posts in the city need significant rehabilitation and updating to better serve veterans and their families.”

Tavlian, a local political operative, and his firm Local Government Strategic Consulting began work in early 2021 to study the potential for forming a veterans memorial district, similar to the Clovis Veterans Memorial District which operates the veterans memorial hall in downtown Clovis. The Clovis district generates its revenue through a property tax levy paid by property owners rather than a sales tax.

But such districts are tightly governed by California law and typically reserved for providing facilities rather than direct services to veterans, Tavlian said. “So we began to pivot into the development of a special tax measure in place of forming a veterans memorial district” he said. “This would allow for the city of Fresno to collect revenue across the entire city rather than just a small portion of our tax base.”

Polling in recent weeks indicated strong support for the measure among potential voters, Tavlian reported Thursday. Among the sample of 620 registered voters, about 74% said they would definitely or likely vote for the measure based on an initial reading of the ballot language, compared to 20% opposed and 5% undecided.

When those surveyed were confronted by potential arguments for and against the measure, the percentage of definite or likely “yes” voters slipped to 64%, while the percentage of undecided voters rose to 12%, Tavlian said. Most of the undecideds, however, remained inclined to lean toward favoring the measure, he added.

“Two-thirds is a high threshold (for approval), admittedly,” Tavlian said. But the initial support level of 74% is an encouraging sign, and Tavlian noted that so far there is no formal opposition that has organized against the measure. “It’s not quite as contentious as some other ballot measures that will be on the ballot in November,” he said.

Voters will confront at least seven statewide ballot propositions in November; in Fresno County, there’s also the renewal of the Measure C half-cent sales tax for transportation needs, and organizers hope to qualify another measure for a 0.2% sales tax to raise funds to expand academic programs and upgrade athletics facilities at Fresno State.

Councilmember Esmeralda Soria also noted that voters in Fresno and Fresno County just last month approved the renewal of Measure Z, a 0.1% sales tax that raises money for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Soria pondered whether the potential for voters to be numbed by the volume of other measures represented an obstacle for Measure V.

Tavlian said the polling results indicated that competing ballot measures were not “an effective influence on their vote” for most of the people surveyed.

Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Miguel Arias both described Measure V as “long overdue” for the city’s veterans.

“I generally do not support tax increases because I think frankly we are way overtaxed as a society, but there’s clearly a need for veterans,” Bredefeld said. “It’s my hope that the community will definitely support this.”

Arias also called it “ a huge step in the right direction for our city and for our veterans who servced us well.”

“Our veterans … deserve nothing but the best from the city,” Arias said. “We’ve been unable to provide that,and my hope is that voters would show the support that we know exists.”

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