Dan Walters: Demos eyeing parcel tax

November 13, 2012 

Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's sales and income tax hike, was easily the most contentious measure on last week's ballot.

As they were passing Proposition 30, however, millions of California voters also were deciding whether to impose even more taxes upon themselves to relieve budget pressure on local governments and school districts -- and most of them passed.

A report said that overall, 71 percent of 240 local tax and bond measures -- bond issues are automatic property tax increases -- passed.

Within the array of those local measures, however, there were distinct differences in the outcome because the state constitution requires different levels of voter approval for different kinds of proposals.

If, for instance, a city proposes a sales tax surcharge for general purposes, such as the one in Sacramento last week, it requires a simple- majority vote. And statewide, 80 percent of those passed.

But if the tax is for a special purpose, it requires a two-thirds supermajority vote, and those had a much-lower passage rate.

There's also a vote requirement differential for bond issues -- a two-thirds margin for local governments, but just 55 percent for most school bonds.

However, if any local entity proposes a parcel tax -- a special kind of tax in which all property parcels are assessed the same dollar amount -- approval requires a two-thirds vote.

Confusing? Absolutely, but it typifies the conglomeration of often conflicting provisions of our very unwieldy state constitution.

It also is the background for what could be a manifestation of the Democrats' newly won supermajorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

Among other things, it means that Democrats are empowered to place constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot without any Republican support. Legislative leaders also want to reduce the vote requirements for local government and school district taxes, particularly those parcel taxes.

Democratic leaders want to use their new power incrementally, rather than frontally, and making parcel taxes easier to enact is high on their agenda.

E-mail: dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee.


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