… that’s the eighth straight defeat of a statewide ballot measure to increase taxes. And if the vote trend for Proposition 29, the proposed tobacco tax increase holds, that’ll be 15 of 19 proposals that voters have turned down since 1990.

Indeed, since 1990, the only tax increase initiatives voters have approved at the statewide ballot have been the millionaire’s tax for mental health programs, Proposition 63 in 2004, and an earlier hike of the tobacco tax in 1998 (Proposition 10). Both of these voter initiatives were approved during times of economic expansion. Voters also approved two measures proposed by Republican governors and placed on the ballot by the Legislature: Proposition 111 in 1990 to increase the gas tax and Proposition 172 in 1993 to make permanent a sales tax hike for public safety.

The simplistic lesson: tax increases initiated in the Legislature (including those passed without voter sign-off in 1989, 1991 and 2009) have historically been more likely to succeed than those presented to voters by citizens initiative.

Local voters are far more open to tax increase proposals, in part because the Constitution requires voter sign-off on these measures, so there is a level of expectation that local officials will make the case for tax increases with their electorates.

According to a preliminary analysis by the League of Cities, the June primary election featured
87 measures seeking approval for taxes, bonds or fees. Overall, 55 measures passed, nearly two out of every three. Schools fared the best, with more than two-thirds of parcel taxes and school bonds passing. The passage rate for these local measures was about the same this year as it was four years ago at the presidential primary election of 2008, according to the League.

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