Proposition 15 would have been the largest tax increase in California history and its defeat this month was, by any definition, a huge setback for its sponsors, primarily public employee unions.
They had been yearning for decades to crack Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot measure that limits property taxes, and convinced themselves that singling out commercial property for new taxes would be a winner, especially in a high turnout presidential election.
After Proposition 15 was defeated, its advocates tried to place a positive spin on the outcome, hinting that they would try again to persuade voters to pass new taxes of some kind on someone or something. However, the notion that Californians really want to raise taxes was destroyed last week in a new poll from the UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.
The poll, conducted just before the election, found that by 53% to 19%, voters still support Proposition 13, which explains, in large measure, why Proposition 15 failed so badly. The opposition campaign’s own polling obviously found the same sentiment and used it effectively to warn voters that its passage would be only the first step toward repealing the 42-year-old property tax limit.
Thus, while California voters gave Democrat Joe Biden a nearly 2-to-1 victory over Republican President Donald Trump, they were also disinclined to accept pleas from other Democratic politicians, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, for higher taxes.
Proposition 15’s Defeat and the UC Berkeley Poll Are Huge Headwinds
More importantly, voters’ sour attitude about taxation isn’t confined to Proposition 13 and property taxes.
“In addition, the poll found that an historically large proportion of voters (81%) now feels the level of state and local taxes paid by the average Californian is high, while just 19% consider taxes in the state to below or about right,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said in his analysis.
“In previous statewide surveys dating back to 1977, the only other times that greater than three in four voters described the level of state and local taxes as being high were in 1982 and 1991, both years in which the state was experiencing an economic downturn. By a nearly 5-to-1 margin (78% to 16%) voters also agreed that taxes in California were already so high that they were driving many people and businesses out of the state.”
Proposition 15’s defeat and the UC Berkeley poll are huge headwinds for those who earnestly believe that Californians’ tax burden, one of the nation’s highest as a percentage of personal income, should be increased. Additionally, when he endorsed Proposition 15, Newsom specifically rejected an income tax hike. And last week’s unexpected projection of a $26 billion state revenue windfall undercuts pro-tax increase advocates even more.
If Californians Believe Their Taxes Are Already Being Misused, They’ll Never Be Inclined to Shoulder More
The UC Berkeley Poll didn’t probe further into why voters believe taxes are too high, but a contributing factor may be the seemingly endless reports of official incompetence.
The managerial debacles at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Employment Development Department are spectacular examples, but certainly not the only ones.
Just last week, the state auditor, Elaine Howle, issued a report that said lack of coordination between the state’s four housing agencies and other administrative failures had squandered $2.7 billion in funds meant to build affordable housing.
Two days later, she issued another report that added to the employment department’s image as an agency that is failing to provide timely benefits to millions of unemployed workers. The new report said that despite warnings, the department is still putting Social Security numbers on communications with clients, putting them at risk of fraud.
If Californians believe their taxes are already being misused, they’ll never be inclined to shoulder more.