By: Joel Fox
Despite talk in Sacramento that pro-tax advocates might want to push for more statewide tax increases, the move to raise revenue through tax increases well could focus on local governments. Governor Jerry Brown has been clear that he wants the state to live within its means. The state already secured two tax increases through Propositions 30 and 39 last November.
While the schools and state agencies will see revenue from those ballot propositions, local governments feel left out. Moreover, the governor’s pledge to keep a reign on the state finances does not reference local taxes.
Already, legislation has been introduced to make it easier to raise local taxes. Bills to lower the two-thirds vote for earmarked local taxes have been introduced to allow for 55-percent votes for schools and libraries. Transportation interests are also waging a campaign to get a lower standard to pass transportation measures.
Making it easier to earmark funds will reduce governing abilities even more for the Boards of Supervisors and City Councils while preventing them from moving funds where they are needed.
However, for legislators, supporting more or easier revenue sources for local governments may not be a hard vote. Legislators voting to reduce the vote requirement to pass a tax will be a couple of steps removed from the actual tax. They will claim that they are only giving the voters a chance to decide on what vote requirement is needed to pass local special taxes. As an amendment to the constitution, voters would have to approve such a proposal.
Furthermore, if the voters make that change, the local government officials still have to propose a tax and the local voters still have to approve it at the ballot box.
Legislators will feel a comfortable distance from the tax. However, local tax increases would satisfy many a legislator’s agenda for more government spending and take pressure off the legislature from certain interests pushing for more revenue.
The Public Policy Institute of California poll issued last week showed support for government realignment at 69-percent of likely voters. While the question stated that “some” state taxes and fees would shift to local governments to pay for realignment, expect an argument to echo in the halls of the legislature that if the voters like realignment they will need to support it with local revenue.
That may be a conclusion that requires too long of a jump.
The same PPIC poll showed that 51% of likely voters support the idea of lowering the two-thirds vote for parcel taxes to help fund schools. Schools are the most likely public service to find support, yet a 51% number is weak, especially given that the poll’s respondents were not offered opposition arguments. Piling on other government services to receive lower vote standards likely would reduce support below 50-percent.
Joel Fox is the Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee