Fresno City Council should ditch effort to spend $750,000 on political ‘education’

JOHN WALKER/Fresno Bee file

The Fresno City Council on Thursday will consider spending $750,000 of taxpayer money on two contracts with marketing firms.

The reason? To convince voters to support measures on the November ballot.

City officials say the marketing efforts aim to inform and educate voters on Measures C and M. As long as the ads remain informative and not political lobbying, the city might be able to skirt around state rules that prohibit active campaigning by cities on measures or candidates.

But let’s be real. Mayor Jerry Dyer and some members of the City Council, such as Luis Chavez, want these measures to pass.

Dyer backs Measure C, which is the $7 billion, 30-year extension of the countywide road tax. Currently, whenever a retail sale occurs anywhere in Fresno County, a half-cent goes to Measure C, which then funds road maintenance and transportation improvements.

Opinion

Chavez has been leading an effort on Measure M, which if passed would generate $19.5 million a year for veterans facilities and services through a one-eighth of a percent hike in sales tax.

No one is against honoring Fresno’s veterans, and all drivers want better roads.

But using such a sizable chunk of taxpayer money for campaign “education” is a questionable expenditure when the city has more than its share of needs, like hiring police, firefighters or park personnel.

Two groups, the Fresno chapter of the League of Women Voters and Mothers Helping Mothers-Central California, have come out against spending money on such voter education.

Kay Bertken, co-president of the league chapter, calls in an “inappropriate use of taxpayer money.

“These are sales tax initiatives to be voted on in November, and any campaigns for or against them can only be supported by private funds, according to state law. This is a clear violation of the public trust.”

A court may wind up determining that point. But for sure, taxpayer funds should not be directed toward these efforts.

Measure C has an official campaign committee. Let that group come up with the money it needs to further its messaging.

As for Measure M, the city’s own resolution indicates there are 20,000 U.S. vets living in Fresno. Maybe they could help spread the word.

The Fresno City Council must spike this spending request and remain above the fray. Let the elections play out as they will.