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Strong Success for Tax Measures May Not Be New Trend

Nov 13, 2012

Credit Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics /

Before last week, California voters had rejected every statewide tax measure since 2004.  This election, they approved two of them.  They also said yes to more than 70 percent of the local tax and bond measures on last week’s ballot.  But as Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, this may not be the start of a new trend.

The passage of Propositions 30 and 39 snapped a seven-measure winning streak for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.  But President Jon Coupal says that doesn’t mean the attitudes of California voters are changing when it comes to taxes.

“As Mark Twain said, the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.  So the suggestion that the tax revolt is somehow dead or mortally wounded, I think, is greatly exaggerated,” says Coupal.

Coupal credits several factors as helping Prop 30 across the finish line: Governor Jerry Brown’s relentless sales pitch, the temporary nature of the tax increases and an election with heavy Democratic voter turnout.

He’s not alone in drawing that conclusion.  

“Any elected official that views this as opening up the floodgates for new revenue increases across the state is looking at this the wrong way,” says Democratic consultant Jason Kinney.

Kinney says voters are fed up with California’s persistent budget deficits.  They typically don’t trust the state to manage its money, but this time, they’re willing to give it a shot.

“It’s not a complete circle of trust.  It’s more trust-but-verify," says Kinney.

And both warn against any effort to overhaul California’s landmark 1978 property tax measure, Proposition 13.  

“It’s viewed as a third rail political issue – maybe the third rail political issue in California.  You touch it, you get electrocuted and you die,” says Kinney.

“You’ve got to be careful before touching the third rail.  You’ve got to see if the third rail is still live,” says Coupal. 

As for the 70-percent success rate of local tax and bond measures, Kinney and Coupal agree that’s consistent with previous years.  Voters simply have more faith in their local elected officials than they have in the state.