The Low Hanging Fruit? Reducing Tax Thresholds

PPIC Poll shows support for some Prop 13 Reforms

by Brian Leubitz

There’s good news and bad news in yesterday’s PPIC poll. The bad news first, Prop 13, or at least that branding, is still popular. When asked if they felt whether Prop 13 has mostly been a good thing or a bad thing for California, a strong majority said “good thing.” 60% of Californians generally, and even 55% of Democrats say that Prop 13 has been good for the state.

Yet, that doesn’t really tell the whole story. When it comes to the particulars of our messed up taxation system, Californians are very amenable to change. Take the 2/3 vote that is required by voters on local special taxes. When asked whether they would support the threshold going back to 55%,  54% of Californians said they would support it.

Fortunately for us, we at least have a start on that.

So, this doesn’t even go so far as the PPIC poll tells us that voters are willing to go. It is a modest reform that would allow community colleges and K12 school districts put parcel taxes on the local ballot with only a 55% threshold. That would simply put taxes at parity with bonds, as voters already made that change in the early part of the last decade.  

With the pending supermajority, we will have the opportunity to put many measures on the ballot. Perhaps we should be thinking bigger, about totally overhauling our the taxation system. Surely we can’t be giving the voters measure after measure with tweaks.

But Prop 30 bought us a bit of time. We have five years to come up with a sustainable revenue system. A system that can see us through the booms and the busts. Whatever that may be, starting with a simple change in 2014 seems a good place to start.  And if we can’t pass Senator Leno’s measure, we have to question what use the supermajority is at all.  So, let’s get SCA 3 passed quickly and move on from there.

I close with a passage from Federalist 58 on the subject of thresholds:

As connected with the objection against the number of representatives, may properly be here noticed, that which has been suggested against the number made competent for legislative business. It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences. Lastly, it would facilitate and foster the baneful practice of secessions; a practice which has shown itself even in States where a majority only is required; a practice subversive of all the principles of order and regular government; a practice which leads more directly to public convulsions, and the ruin of popular governments, than any other which has yet been displayed among us.

7 thoughts on “The Low Hanging Fruit? Reducing Tax Thresholds”

  1. Lowering the threshold for bond measures to 22% or 60% is reasonable

    So is splitting the property tax rolls into private single family homes and commercial property

    Let’s get THAT done and hold off on some of the other things

    These would be two critical steps in solving California’s educational problems

    I wouldn ‘t mind seeing the Vehicle License fee raised to pre-Arnold days, but apparently the PPIC poll show that voters won’t support that

    Let’s get what we can and move on to other legislation

  2. Come to think of it…..

    Does the Budget still have to be passed by 2/3rd majorities in each house ???

    Why not CHANGE THAT stupid requirement !!

    Pass the budget with a simple majority vote in each house

    That might be hard enough

  3. Mark Leno is also sponsoring a ‘HOMELESS BILL OF RIGHTS’

    Thanks, Mark !

    That’s something we really need

    Free Food !

    Free Housing !

    Free Donations !

    Free clothing !

    Free Smokes !!

    Free Get out of Jail cards !

    Freedom from Laws against Nudity

    You’re doin’ a Heckuva job, Mark !!

  4. Why the hell is it always just schools? Is there something wrong with letting less than 67% of voters approve parcel taxes to fix OTHER public infrastructure? Are schools more important public facilities than, say:

    * flood control or hospital or fire station facilities (as in safety)

    * parks or community centers (other places important to the daily lives of children when schools are not in session)

    * buses or other public transportation systems (not every kid can walk or be chauffeured to/from school)

    * homeless shelters (there are homeless children)

    * sidewalks and pothole repairs (AKA “Safe routes to School”)

    * etc.?

    As it turns out, school districts are not always the best stewards of public tax money. See… about how 200 school districts in CA have turned to risky Capital Appreciation Bonds for financing, with repayments running 10-20 times the principal. That’s a staggering 18% of CA school districts potentially setting themselves up for a fall.

    Apparently Legislators seem to think that the public only cares about schools and precious little kiddies and does not care a bit about any other aspect of local public infrastructure. Baloney! The entire array of California’s local public infrastructure is falling apart thanks to Prop 13 and its progeny. In that regard, Leno’s proposal makes sense for schools. But only for schools. What other public facilities need to be fixed?

Comments are closed.