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January 25, 2010

Contact:
Lani Lutar, President & CEO, San Diego County Taxpayers Association
                619-234-6423 x.16 or lani@sdcta.org

NOTE: This letter was published in VoiceOfSanDiego.org in response to the story "Polls Show Support for Temporary School Tax" by Emily Alpert, and sent to San Diego County Taxpayers Association contacts.

Dear Editor,

The recently published “Issues Survey” conducted for the San Diego Unified School District as reported by Emily Alpert under “Schooled” (“Polls Show Support for Temporary School Tax,” January 25) left me scratching my head in more ways than one. From years of observing voter opinion on tax issues, it just didn’t pass the smell test.

So I contacted John Nienstedt, President of Competitive Edge and a well-respected pollster by people with a wide variety of political views.

John pointed out that while the poll (please link to pdf) appears to have a statistically valid sample of 500 respondents, you have to read the fine print. Evidently, not all the questions were asked of all the people polled. Some questions including the one which was the basis for the optimistic headline were evidently answered by only 115 respondents. Ask any pollster and they will tell you this produces a margin of sampling error of plus or minus nine percent. No one should draw conclusions based on this margin of error.

The City of Chula Vista relied on a faulty poll when it decided to put a sales tax measure on the ballot. It failed miserably; wasting taxpayer dollars when it could ill afford to do so during a budget crisis.

Although the poll put more than 50 pro-tax messages to the respondents, the respondents only heard three anti-tax messages. One message they should have tested is that the school board has already pulled a ‘bait and switch’ on promised projects for the $2.1 billion school bond program passed by voters last November. When voters find that out, the recession-weary electorate will surely vote it down.

But even accepting the results at face value, they aren’t good news when discussing a measure that needs a two-thirds majority to pass. Conventional wisdom says you need to start with a minimum 70% favorable response to have a chance of passage. The poll was taken in the absence of any organized opposition, and the favorable responses will only drop as the election approaches.

Will all this be disclosed when the survey results are presented to the SDUSD Board of Directors at Tuesday’s meeting? Do Board members actually intend to base any decisions on these findings? It would be felony stupid of them to make the same mistake made by the City of Chula Vista.

I previously expressed my opinion (http://ow.ly/10pYr) on spending the funds to engage a consultant on this issue in the first place. Enough taxpayer money has already been wasted on this useless poll, let alone another expensive and ultimately pointless ballot initiative.

- Lani Lutar, President & CEO, San Diego County Taxpayers Association