Top 5 Taxes You May See on the November 2016 Ballot–Version 4

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Tis the season for proposed initiative filings given how much time proponents have to go through the process of qualifying a measure for the November 2016 ballot and there has been some movement on the tax initiative front.

This is the fourth column dedicated to prognosticating the interconnected ebbs and flows of tax proposal strategy and circumstances with California’s unique initiative politics.

In August, I offered the following list of the top five measures most likely to make the ballot: 1) Prop 30 Extension, 2) Cigarette Tax, 3) Split Roll Property Tax, 4) Service Tax, 5) Oil Severance Tax.

Circumstances have changed.

One move that few saw coming is that not one–but two–Proposition 30 extension measures have been filed. As expected the teachers union offered up an extension of Prop 30 that was originally passed in 2012 based on the argument that money was needed for schools. The teachers want to argue that this income tax on the wealthy, originally labeled temporary, would remain so—only for 12 additional years. The provision on the sales tax increase in Prop 30 would be dropped.

Then came a second Proposition 30 extension proposal offered by, among others, the California Hospitals Association and related health care unions. I’m not sure if use of the term “extension” applies to this proposal since the idea it not to extend the temporary status but to make the tax on upper income taxpayers permanent. Again the sales tax piece is dropped but additional income tax rates have been added.

Another major development occurred when the coalition of left-leaning advocacy groups that had been pumping for the split roll property tax to hit commercial property announced in an email to supporters that they would not pursue a ballot measure for 2016. While it is still possible that others could file a split roll initiative the wind is out of the sails on this proposal.

However, a different kind of property tax increase proposal has been filed and could advance. This one would tax all property, commercial and residential, valued at over $3-million, and dedicate money for the purpose of relieving those in poverty. This measure is moving forward.

Finally, there was the announcement by NextGen founder and billionaire, Tom Steyer, that he would spend to support a cigarette tax. Steyer was the leading advocate for an oil severance tax. Certainly, he has the wherewithal to fund a tax on oil while contributing to a cigarette tax effort, but his announcement seems to pump up the cigarette tax while lessen the likelihood that we’ll see an oil severance tax measure in 2016—especially if something comes out of the Special Session dealing with transportation that adds a new revenue source to fix roads and highways.

So, looking into the cracked and sometimes foggy crystal ball, here’s what I see in late October, about one year prior to the election, as the 5 most likely tax measures to appear on the 2016 ballot.

  1. CIGARETTE TAX. Proponents have the means and the determination and now have a billionaire’s money.
  1. PROP 30 EXTENSION. You could really make this idea a co-number one with the Cigarette Tax. However, because of the two proposals, the exact tax measure probably has not been decided yet. Undoubtedly, the proponents of the two measures are trying to find common ground to back a single proposal. Whatever happens, however, most assuredly there will be some form of a Prop 30 extension on the ballot.
  1. PROPERTY TAX. Not the split roll but the poverty proposal. It is unclear how much support there is for this measure but proponents have established a committee and are starting to gather signatures.
  1. MARIJUANA TAX. Does this even deserve to be on the list? I had not considered it before since the chief goal of a successful marijuana initiative is to legalize marijuana rather than create a new revenue stream. However, there will be a tax component to a marijuana proposal and the tax will be part of the debate over the measure.
  1. ROAD FIX TAX. Unlikely that a road fix tax proposal would come via the initiative process although a powerful coalition of business and labor supports such a thing. Out of frustration they could move a proposal forward. There is also a chance a compromise transportation/infrastructure bill could come out of the Special Session which includes taxes. Neither the governor nor supporters of a road fix tax want to see it on the ballot, but that could be part of a final deal.

Finally, since I mentioned it last time but do not include it in the top five, Senator Bob Hertzberg has a plan to tie the tax system more closely to the current state economy by taxing services. Hertzberg also has a strategy that if many different taxes are headed for the ballot, that could present an opening for him. He could argue that his answer to California’s tax system flaws is a better overall fix than the myriad of other proposals. Remember, he also has potential financial support from another billionaire, Nicolas Berggreun’s Think Long Committee.

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.