Who should be responsible for shouldering the burden to make major improvements at Fresno State – Fresno County taxpayers, the state, or Fresno State’s network of wealthy donors?
That’s the big question with Measure E, a ⅕ cent sales tax on Fresno County residents to support Fresno State. (For Reedley residents, it’s a 0.025% tax.)
The measure is expected to bring in about $36 million in revenue each year, if passed by just a simple majority (50% + 1) of voters.
Proponents say the tax is necessary to address crumbling buildings, meet student demand for critical careers in nursing and engineering, and of course – make the 40-year old Valley Children’s Stadium (formerly Bulldog Stadium) better.
It’s the first time a local sales tax has ever been put forward for a California State University to support its own programs, according to experts. San Diego State University unveiled its new $225 million stadium earlier this year, paid for by state-issued revenue bonds and with $85 million of local philanthropy and permanent seat sales.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Aug. 9 to put Measure E, also known as the California State University Fresno Facility and Academic Program Improvement Initiative measure, on the November 2022 ballot.
How will the money be spent?
Two-thirds of the money has to be spent on academic programs and facilities, and no more than one-third can be used to support athletics.
The measure allows the money to be spent on:
- Expanding access in nursing, agriculture, criminology, and engineering/STEM programs;
- Repairing and upgrading deteriorating classrooms, campus fire and public safety systems;
- Improving athletic facilities; and,
- Providing scholarships for low-income students, including veterans.
Who will decide what specific projects – and contractors – get the money?
A five-member Citizens’ Oversight Committee – chosen by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors – will make decisions about how to spend the money.
However, the ballot measure says that if a joint powers authority is formed – a common legal structure to implement big infrastructure projects – the Citizens’ Oversight Committee would lose its authority and be downgraded to a purely advisory body only.
Will all the money go to building a new football stadium?
No. The measure legally limits athletic spending to a third of the total revenues. Proponents expect the tax to raise about $720 million over its 20-year life – which leaves about $240 million for a stadium, among other athletic priorities.
Why am I voting on this?
You can thank developer and contractor Richard Spencer, owner of Harris Construction, who single handedly funded the effort to collect more than 28,000 signatures in order to place the tax on the ballot this fall. He also sits on the Fresno State Foundation’s Board of Governors, which manages the foundation’s $193 million endowment.
So far, he’s donated nearly $1.8 million to the campaign. He’s the only donor, to date.
Why do Reedley residents get a lower tax rate than the rest of Fresno County under Measure E?
This ballot measure is a little strange in that it’s a countywide tax that is levied at one rate – ⅕ of a cent – for most of Fresno County residents, but differently – at just 0.025% – for residents of Reedley.
Why? Cities and counties in California cannot have taxes higher than 2% over the base sales tax rate of 7.25%. Reedley residents already pay a half-cent sales tax for public safety and a three-quarters general sales tax – so this tax would put them over the cap.
Who is funding the support for and against Measure E?
Only one person – Richard Spencer, CEO of Harris Construction – is funding the Yes on Measure E campaign.
Spencer’s firm is frequently awarded large construction projects for local governments and schools, including the Jordan Agricultural Research Center at Fresno State.
He has previously been a large donor to school bond measure campaigns. Spencer was the subject of a federal investigation related to a ‘pay-to-play’ scheme, where Fresno Unified awarded his firm no-bid contracts to build new schools after a school bond – where he was a major donor – passed. That practice was successfully challenged in court by a rival contracting firm.
There is no formal opposition campaign to Measure E.
Who is endorsing and opposing Measure E?
Yes on E
Congressman Jim Costa
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer
Assemblymember Jim Patterson
Jim Yovino, outgoing Fresno County Superintendent of Schools
Dora Westerlund, Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation
Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero
Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez
Fresno Bee Editorial Board
No on E
Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias
Fresno County Republican Party
Mike Der Manuel, Fresno County Lincoln Club
Fresno County Libertarian Party