This week marked the final push for voters to pass or defeat Measure CC, the $120 per-year parcel tax that has practically become a referendum on the quality of the Pasadena Unified School District.
Yet, while supporters bill the ballot measure as the salvation for the city’s youth, opponents say its passage would put an unfair burden on seniors already struggling to make ends meet.
That’s because Measure CC would be one of the few school parcel taxes in the state that requires seniors to undergo a financial test to qualify for an exemption, opponents say.
Meanwhile, campaign finance reports are helping to illuminate the who’s who list of local business, political and community leaders bankrolling the effort to pass the measure.
The Yes on CC campaign had taken in more than $274,400 — a twenty-fifth of what the measure would net in its five-year existence — and had spent nearly $160,000 as of April 17, the deadline for the most recent campaign finance reporting period.
Much of that sum came by way of Charles Munger, the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway who forked over $50,000 of his own cash, and from people in some way connected to him or to the nonprofit Pasadena Education Foundation (PEF), or both.
Wendy Munger, the businessman’s daughter who sits on the PEF advisory board, gave $10,000 and several attorneys who work for Munger Tolles Olson, of which Charles Munger was a founding partner, gave more than $10,000 all together. Even the PEF kicked in $10,000 to the cause.
A number of sitting and former members of the Pasadena City Council, which endorsed the parcel tax, and several PUSD school board members also gave to the campaign.
But the Yes on CC campaign also has considerable support at the community level, evidenced by multiple smaller donations that make up half of what it has taken in, said George Brumder, president of the PEF and head of the Yes on CC campaign.
“I think that shows that the community broadly supports Measure CC,” Brumder said.
The No on CC campaign took in far less money — $6,972, of which $6,827 has been spent, according to campaign finance records.
Ross Selvidge, head of the No on CC campaign, said he expected more contributions would flow into the campaign’s coffers as voters become more familiar with the parcel tax and realize that PUSD spends more per student than comparable districts yet performs the same or worse.
“People understand that it ain’t just for the children,” he said.
As for the senior exemption, school districts in San Marino and La Cañada Flintridge, both of which recently tapped land owners for more cash via parcel tax, allow seniors 65 and older to simply prove the property they want exempted is their primary residence. In La Cañada Flintridge, that exemption stands for the life of the parcel tax.
But under Measure CC, seniors 65 and older seeking an exemption would not only have to apply each year, but also prove they meet strict income limits that are not included in almost any other parcel tax. That means a senior living alone could not earn more than $27,750 a year, while an equally aged couple could earn no more than $31,700.
“It’s something that’s really aggravating,” said Selvidge.
The US Census Bureau estimates about 25,000 residents 65 or older live in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, the areas PUSD serves. As of Monday, a total of 21,016 ballots in Tuesday’s mail-in election had been returned, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.
Brumder said seniors he’s heard from are supportive of the measure, and he hoped the exemption would not become a wedge issue that would prevent Measure CC from getting the two-thirds majority it requires to pass.
“It seems to me that really what’s most important is this is the future of the 19,000-plus people in the PUSD,” Brumder said. “This is the key to their future.”
John Pappalardo, chief financial officer for the PUSD, said the income test was added to the senior exemption because early community polling on the parcel tax showed voters were more receptive to that method than offering a blanket exemption for seniors or providing no exemption at all.
“The idea that a senior by virtue of their age in spite of their income level was exempt was not highly regarded in the community,” Pappalardo said.
The district has no data on how many seniors would be able to qualify for the exemption if the measure passes, but officials hope to have the exemption system in place a few weeks after the election is finalized. Pappalardo said.