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Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno+County+residents+will+vote+on+Measure+E%2C+a+proposed+0.2%25+countywide+sales+tax+to+fund+Fresno+State+academics+and+athletics%2C+for+the+upcoming+General+Election.+%28Manuel+Hernandez%2FThe+Collegian%29
Fresno County residents will vote on Measure E, a proposed 0.2% countywide sales tax to fund Fresno State academics and athletics, for the upcoming General Election. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)

Fresno State could receive $36 million per year with vote on Measure E tax

Proponents of Measure E, a proposed 0.2% countywide sales tax that would bring Fresno State $36 million per year for the next 20 years, say the tax could take the university from “good to great.” 

Opponents of the measure say the tax will disproportionately affect Fresno County residents struggling financially while standing to benefit the group promoting Measure E, a collection of construction-business owners and community leaders dubbed the Fresno State Improvement Zone Committee.

“Asking some of the poorest people in California to tax themselves for the university is absurd. We’re asking people that can barely put gas in their cars or put food on their table to tax themselves,” said Mike Der Manouel, a Fresno State alumnus and member of the pro-business, conservative Lincoln Club of Fresno County.

Former Sanger Unified School District Superintendent Marcus Johnson, a member of the Improvement Zone Committee, acknowledged the reluctance of county residents to fund a state university, but said the tax is an investment not just in Fresno State but in Fresno County.

“I would suggest that we have to start by reminding ourselves we all contribute to the California State University (CSU) system just by the fact that we are citizens of the state of California. And, if we are residents of Fresno County, then we are contributors to the wellbeing of our county,” Johnson said.

Johnson emphasized that Measure E would fund extensive academic and athletic improvements across the university, with two-thirds of the $36 million raised per year going to academic improvements and one-third going to athletics. 

Improvements will include repairing and modernizing facilities, removing potential asbestos or lead paint from older buildings and expanding educational programs in nursing and criminology.

Johnson said that supplemental funding for the university is often limited, making the tax measure a more efficient way to raise funds for these improvements than other methods such as receiving funds from legacy donors after their passing or raising tuition fees.

“I spoke to the Republican Women’s Group a couple weeks ago and I said, ‘We can’t expect our university to supplement this instruction by hoping that the right alumni die this year,’ ” he said.

Der Manouel argued against this point however, and said the sales tax could have an adverse effect when it comes to state funding.

“If we tax ourselves for Fresno State, for sure if we do that we’ll get less money from Sacramento. We’re actually hurting ourselves by doing this because they’re gonna say to themselves, ‘Why should we send money to CSU Fresno, because the people there have already shown that they’re willing to tax themselves again to fund the university?’ ” Der Manouel said.

While Fresno County voters face the prospect of increased taxes, some of the individuals in the Fresno State Improvement Zone Committee could stand to profit from its passing.

Richard Spencer, the owner of Harris Construction, is the leader of the committee, which includes Johnson; Tim Orman, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer’s former chief of staff; Terry Bradley, former Clovis Unified School District Superintendent; and Dora Westerlund, CEO of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation.

Spencer has worked with Fresno State in years past, having served as vice chair of the University Advisory Board, as reported by Fresno State News in 2010. His company was also the general contractor for the $29 million, 30,000-square foot Jordan Agricultural Research Center, columnist Marek Warszawski wrote in The Fresno Bee

According to Warszawski, Harris Construction is under contract for four more current or recently completed campus infrastructure projects. 

“But can you see why it might be in the best interest of a construction company owner to sponsor a tax initiative that would generate more money for construction? I certainly hope so,” he wrote.

Another Fresno Bee article in 2016 by Mackenzie Mays noted that Spencer’s previous $30,000 gift to the committee behind Measure Q, a $280 million bond Fresno Unified passed in 2010, led to him being awarded nearly $115 million in leaseback contracts paid for by funds from Measure Q.

Tom Nichols, who is running to represent Assembly District 8, published an opposition  to Measure E on the Libertarian Party of Fresno County’s website that echoed these concerns after incumbent Jim Patterson shared his endorsement.

“Financial support for this measure comes primarily from Richard Spencer of Harris Construction. Harris Construction has contracted with Fresno State in the past, and it is logical to assume that Harris would be the preferred contractor for any future construction contracts resulting from this measure,” Nichols wrote.

Despite the potential conflicts of interest of the committee, Measure E supporters are excited at the prospect of a revitalized Fresno State.

“The better we can make Fresno State and the more graduates we can produce at a higher level, I think that’s great. I think it’ll help keep more kids in town that grew up in Fresno that will want to go to Fresno State and not necessarily away for school. I just don’t really see a downside,” said Sam Mann, a Fresno State alumnus and local resident.

Some supporters are hopeful that if passed, proceeds from Measure E could be used to revamp Valley Children’s Stadium and put Fresno State further in the running for the Pac-12.

“I support Measure E because I understand what it would do for our community. Investing in Fresno State by supporting Measure E would transform our university into a top tier campus,” said David Tangipa-Entwistle, a former Fresno State student-athlete and three-time graduate.

While Mann isn’t confident that Measure E alone can achieve that, he pointed out the benefits of having a stronger football program at Fresno State.

“A good strong athletic program makes the Fresno State brand more well-known, and that helps everybody. You can go anywhere in the country and apply for a job and if you say you went to Fresno State, most people have heard of it and that’s important for everybody. A strong sports program helps market the Fresno State name for everyone,” he said.

Johnson described the Pac-12 discussions occurring during the campaigning for Measure E as “a perfect storm.”

“I really think that the Red Wave should be very, very excited about what this can do to support all kinds of athletic investments on the President’s campus,” he said.

When it comes to the university itself, Fresno State is prohibited from taking an official position on the measure by state law. 

Multiple yard signs urging “Yes on Measure E” adorn popular spots on campus, however, and Public Information Officer Lisa Bell said it would be “an investment.”

“While the university cannot have an official position on this legislation, we can share that this ballot measure will provide a critical investment in both our academic and athletic programs,” Bell said.

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