For years, state and local politicians have used a loophole in the law to raise taxes by disguising them as “fees” – circumventing Constitutional requirements for passing taxes on goods like food, gas, cell phones and even emergency services. These hidden taxes add billions of dollars in higher costs paid by consumers and businesses each year.
Proposition 26 was placed on the November 2010 ballot to close this loophole, further protecting taxpayers and consumers from efforts by the state Legislature and local politicians to increase hidden taxes.
Miller Public Affairs Group was retained in early August to build a robust earned media and communications strategy that took this complicated issue directly to the voters.
After reviewing the campaign’s research and polling, we knew that voters’ disdain for higher taxes was at an all time high. Our approach was to develop a media strategy that directly impacted individual voters with key examples of the types of hidden taxes they were forced to pay on a daily basis to fund government programs with no connection to the fees that were collected.
Working with a statewide consultant team, we quickly developed core messaging for the campaign to correctly frame the issue Prop. 26 addressed. We enhanced fact sheets, developed one-page briefing reports and built a vigorous online communication tool.
Next, our team took a statewide snapshot of out-of-control fees and built a multi-faceted communications plan that highlighted our key messaging through print, radio, broadcast and online media outlets. Our plan built on the campaign’s paid media strategy, emphasizing key themes as we approached Election Day.
Outreach and education were central to our strategy. Our team conducted an intensive media audit to identify key reporters in media markets across the state. We completed briefings with reporters and editorial boards while focusing the debate with earned media events, opposite-editorials by statewide leaders and letters to the editor from local taxpayers.
Come Election Day, our message of holding politicians accountable by making them call “a tax a tax” reached voters as they approved Prop. 26 with a 5 percent margin. This is after all conventional polling showed the initiative losing.