It's been nearly two weeks since the Anaheim city council gave Mickey Mouse a decades-long entertainment tax exemption, and activists are still reeling over it. The 3-2 vote during a marathon meeting promised total reimbursements of any future levy for up to 45 years in exchange for $1.5 billion in Disney expansion efforts. The latest sweetheart deal brought the people's pitchforks out again with angry residents vowing to double down on political revenge.
But Duane Roberts, a former Anaheim city council candidate (and Weekly 'Best Gadfly') says that a "Fight for $15" minimum wage increase campaign would benefit working-class residents more than a gate-tax could've ever hoped for.
"I never aggressively campaigned on a [gate-tax] because I have had my reservations about it as a revenue source," says Roberts of his post-riot run in 2012. "There is absolutely no guarantee any revenues collected from such a tax would go to pay for things like new soccer fields, low-income housing or childcare for working mothers."
Even though the Anaheim Police Association came out in favor of the Disney deal, they'd be well positioned, Roberts says, to gobble up an admissions levy just as vociferously as they do current hotel bed-tax revenues. APD consumes almost 50% of the city's budget alone, topping over $125 million.
The securing of Disney's "diamond celebration" exemption is timely. Councilwoman Kris Murray's effort to put the "Anaheim Taxpayer Protection Act" on the ballot next year becomes a moot point where Disney entertainment taxes are concerned. The measure would shore up the city's charter status with general law cities that require a two-thirds super-majority vote on the council for tax proposals, but the theme park is already protected no matter what.
Jose F. Moreno, President of Los Amigos and a former council candidate, believes the Disney deal is bigger than people realize. "This just isn't a gate tax we're talking about," he says. "It's a much more expansive exemption which is troublesome." He points to a clause in the contract that forbids taxes "based upon attendance at a Theme Park or the gross revenues of a Theme Park," which broadens the scope beyond a simple admissions levy. Moreno penned an op-ed in the Register claiming "this seemingly applies to any local levy that targets Disney revenues."
But the Weekly's reading is that although, yes, the entertainment tax transcends ticket sales to other forms of "entertainment," Disney is not exempt from taxes applied citywide as explicitly stated in the contract itself.
Opponents of the entertainment tax ban could exploit California election code and put the exemption itself on the ballot, but there's no motion on that front. "A referendum drive would have essentially forced the Anaheim city council to rescind its decision on this matter and place it for a public vote," Roberts says. All it would take is collecting 10% of registered voter signatures within 30 days of the deal.
Meanwhile, challenges to the Disney deal are being explored by civil liberties groups and even right-wing legal foundations, says Moreno, where it concerns rendering the people's vote impotent by rewarding reimbursements from future entertainment taxes.
While potential litigation looms, a "Fight for $15" campaign could open a new battlefront for activists down the road. Victories for a $15 an hour minimum wage have already been won in big cities like Seattle and more recently in Los Angeles. "I haven't heard of any movement on that front in Anaheim or Orange County," Moreno says. "Through district elections there's a better shot, not a guarantee, for progressive minded policies."
Roberts, who ran as a Green Party candidate, favors the move, says it can come as a ballot initiative campaign and believes it'd be more beneficial to working-class Anaheimers. "Unlike a gate tax, the money would flow directly into the pockets of ten thousands of working-class families, many who are struggling to afford the basic necessities of life," he says. "No city bureaucrats or elected politicians would be able to divert it and use it for purposes that don't serve their needs or those of the community."
And since Murray said that a gate-tax would "disproportionately affect the working-poor," surely she couldn't be against a city-wide raise that would put more money in their pocket, could she? Hell, working families might even be able to afford a day at Disneyland!
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2