By: Joel Fox
While Governor Brown was in Las Vegas trying to gin up support for his November tax measure at the California School Employees Association conference — whose leaders must have chosen Las Vegas as the conference site to help with Nevada’s unemployment rate because it is one of the few states with a worse unemployment than California – local governments are starting to pile taxes on to the November ballot.
How taxpayers will react facing a ballot full of taxes for both state and local government is not certain, but warning flags are being hoisted from the government parapets that voters just might object when faced with so many tax measures.
In the June primary there was one statewide tax measure to raise tobacco taxes, which was defeated (we’re pretty sure—is that recount in LA done yet?) and 87 local tax measures, including bonds, of which 57 or 66% passed.
November’s statewide ballot will contain three tax increase measures (the governor and legislature’s Prop 30 on sales and income taxes; Prop 38 income tax for schools; Prop 39 corporate taxes for energy projects and the general fund). How many local taxes will appear on the ballot is not certain yet since not all local governments have made final ballot determinations. However, with the threat of bankruptcies facing a number of municipalities, indications are the number of tax and bond measures will be high.
There are discussions to add sales taxes, utility taxes, parcel taxes, and even taxes on sugary drinks in the Northern California city of Richmond and the Southern California city of El Monte.
As the Sacramento Bee pointed out this week, some communities are resorting to declaring a fiscal emergency to hurry measures on to the ballot. Will declaring a fiscal emergency convince local voters that the taxes must be passed or will they be skeptical of the call? Stories of fiscal mismanagement and the issue of employee pensions and health costs squeezing local budgets could have voters taking a second look at the tax increase request.
With so many local tax measures the statewide proposals could suffer. Political scientists tell us that voters usually trust governments closer to home. If the voters have to share more of their hard earned dollars with government is it not likely they will first support the local tax request and draw the line before raising state taxes?
One person who doesn’t think that’s a problem is the Mayor of Orinda, Steve Glazer, who also happens to double as Governor Brown’s political advisor. Glazer voted to put a local sales tax increase on his city’s ballot.
Speaking with like confidence, another mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, successfully pushed to include an extension of a local transit tax in November.
Not all local governments wanted to risk having their tax increase on the same ballot with so many other tax increase measures. The Los Angeles Unified School District, at the behest of the governor, decided to shelve a parcel tax plan.
As the tax increase proposals multiply in the shadow of continuing stories of fiscal mismanagement, hidden funds, and spending money on projects such as the bullet train while cutting the state budget, taxpayers are going to decide that the only ones responsible for bringing some fiscal sanity to government is the voters themselves by controlling the purse strings. They will get that chance in November.
Joel Fox, editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee