A growing opposition to raising taxes in California

Tax and bond proposals did not fare very well in the election just last March. For the first time since the 1990’s, voters rejected a statewide school bond, ironically designated as Proposition 13. Local bond and tax measures also had rough sledding, particularly those requiring a two-thirds vote.

Prior to that, in June of 2019, registered voters residing in the Los Angeles Unified School District rejected a proposed parcel tax heavily supported by the local labor groups and Mayor Eric Garcetti. The measure, Measure EE, which needed a two-thirds vote for passage, didn’t even secure a simple majority.

What is going on here?

Last year, this column coined the term “taxuration” which is a phenomenon when taxpayers are so saturated with new tax-hike proposals that they start to rebel.

According to a poll released at that time by the Public Policy Institute of California, a majority of likely voters in the state aren’t very happy with the tax burdens they are forced to pay.

Most Californians say the state’s tax system is unfair, a reversal from the same question asked in March 2017.

The results of that poll are consistent with what is happening in 2020, at least so far. But the true test will be in November as voters confront the split-roll measure — Proposition 15 — that would be the biggest property tax hike proposal in the history of California.

The November election has too many variables to make any sort of rational prediction: The continuing economic fallout from the pandemic, voter turnout in a presidential election year and the impact of an all-mail election to name a few. But resistance to tax hikes is increasing, not waning.

Californians still want good schools and other public services that government is supposed to deliver, but they continue to perceive, with ample justification, that they are not getting the services for which they are paying. Many are angry at the arrogance and overreach of public-sector unions that are making ridiculous demands for everything including, of course, more money at a time when private-sector workers are struggling.

In one respect, this renewed resistance to higher taxes is counterintuitive. This is no longer the California of Ronald Reagan, Howard Jarvis or George Deukmejian.

Moreover, Democrats in the legislature, with more than a two-thirds supermajority in both houses, should be able to jam through every tax hike they want. However, as the public’s resistance to tax hikes has grown, there has been less clarity among legislators concerning who can be counted on to oppose higher taxes.

In decades past, Republicans were reliable opponents of tax hikes while Democrats generally favored them. That may still be true most of the time, but some Republicans have supported big tax hikes while several Democrats have defied convention and fought against them. In fact, several Democrats have received decent grades from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association report card and one even received a perfect score.

On the flip side, several Republicans backed Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11, which put Proposition 19 on the ballot. That affront to taxpayers is a billion-dollar property tax hike, raising taxes by removing the ability of parents and grandparents to give property to their kids without triggering reassessment. It is, in essence, a massive estate tax.

For voters, all this means is that party affiliation is becoming less important when it comes to issues involving taxation, debt and fiscal responsibility. Reliance on individuals and advocacy organizations with proven track records is a better option.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.