Today Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Speaker John Pérez joined California Forward to announce a reform package that the Legislature will try and put before voters at the November election. The package closely resembles what California Forward had been proposing since last fall, including majority vote budget, allowing counties to ask voters to raise the sales tax (but no other tax) by a majority vote in support of a “Countywide Strategic Action Plan,” requiring a 2/3rds vote to create a fee to replace a tax, and creating some performance review processes. The full list of proposals can be found here.
The genesis behind this appears to have been California Forward’s own difficulty in getting the funds they need to put their initiatives directly to voters through signature gathering. This doesn’t mean it’s certain that the Legislature will put the proposals to the voters, since the constitutional amendments that form the meat of the reforms requires a 2/3rds vote from the Legislature to go on the ballot. Republicans don’t seem interested in giving up their only form of power in Sacramento by letting voters decide on majority vote budget.
If this does go before voters, it’s unclear how it would fare. The local majority vote tax proposal is intriguing, but the fact that it would only apply to sales tax increases is a big problem. Last November most local sales tax increases failed, whereas other taxes, such as parcel taxes, were generally approved. California has turned to the sales tax fairly often in recent years, a less progressive form of taxation than property taxes or income taxes.
It would have been better had the proposal followed the Oregon model, taxing the wealthy and large corporations (or at least including that as a possibility). With sales taxes approaching 10% in some localities, voters may not be in a mood to endorse this proposal.
On the other hand, even a 10% sales tax is more progressive than further cuts to schools and health care services. Democrats and progressives will have to closely and carefully assess this proposal and determine whether it’s the best method of achieving the changes this state so desperately needs.