Sending a Message on Taxes

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

There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear

There’s a man with a TAX over there

Telling me I got to beware

(With apologies to Buffalo Springfield) 

There is something happening here in California on the bread-and-butter issue of taxes, a possible shift in the state’s political orbit for it seems that voter approved tax increases may not be a near sure thing anymore. 

Remember last year when Measure EE, a tax to help fund Los Angeles schools, was defeated? Experts were surprised. The Los Angeles teachers’ union had just come off a successful strike which, on the surface, seemed to garner much sympathy from the residents of the community. Schools have a strong appeal to voters and the tax increase, backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s political establishment, appeared a safe bet until it lost 46% to 54%. 

Rationalizing the surprising defeat, political insiders pointed to the fact that the tax appeared at an off-time election with a small voter turnout that tends to favor conservatives. In addition, there was a city council race on the ballot to fill an empty seat in, for Los Angeles, the most conservative councilmanic district in the city bringing out a larger percentage of voters in that district. 

Things would be different during a more well-attended, regular election, they argued.

The well-attended regular election just happened with the state primary and tax results reflected what occurred in Los Angeles a few months ago. 

Despite a heavy Democratic voter turnout drawn by the contested Democratic presidential primary, the California Taxpayers Association charted election results and reported that about half of the 237 taxes and bonds on the ballot were defeated.

The biggest tax and spend issue on the ballot, the statewide school bond, Proposition 13, also took a thumping.

Some results might flip before all votes are certified in a month but the percentage of measures that were turned down is eye-opening. 

While more than 50% of the taxes and bonds were defeated in March 2020, that compares to 22% that lost in the June 2016 primary and 17% that failed in the November 2016 presidential election. The higher number of rejected measures is astounding in light of the fact that few opposition campaigns are run against the taxes while there is usually financial campaign support for the yes side and/or “informational” campaigns by government agencies that clearly have a sheen of advocacy.

Given the results in Los Angeles in June 2019 and on the state ballot in March 2020, there really could be an attitude shift on tax issues. The Public Policy Institute of California poll revealed that 58% of Californians across the state think taxes are too high. 

California Taxpayers Association President Robert Gutierrez hopes we are seeing the beginning of a trend and that advocates for tax increases are reading the tealeaves. “We hope elected officials and special interests will listen to the public and drop their remaining plans to further increase the tax burden on hard-working Californians.”

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