The Good Election News for Tax Raisers

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In post-election analyses, Gov. Jerry Brown has been labeled a loser, because he's pushing a temporary-tax increase initiative for the November ballot -- and the cigarette tax Prop 29 appears to have lost narrowly in Tuesday's elections.

But the Prop 29 experience -- with complex questions about budgeting and a campaign by tobacco -- is likely to be very different than the campaign that Brown's initiative faces. Brown is arguing for the taxes to help the budget and to provide money for local governments.

The good news for Brown -- and to some degree to his tax-hiking competitor, civil rights attorney Molly Munger -- is that California voters were supportive of taxes in this election.

Where? Dozens of California local governments had measures on the June ballot asking voters to raise revenues -- via bonds or taxes -- for local needs. And for the most part, Californians said yes.

In a very helpful (and speedy) compilation by, the trend was clear: all kinds of local tax measures passed, even when passage required supermajorities of voters to approve. From the compilation:

Preliminary election night tallies with all precincts reporting indicate that 55 of the 87 local revenue measures passed. As in past elections, majority vote measures fared better than supermajority vote special taxes and bonds. Fifteen of the 19 majority vote measures passed, including all but one of the city measures. But 18 of the 34 two-thirds supermajority vote special taxes passed. School parcel taxes fared better, with nine of 13 passing versus just nine of 21 non-school special tax measures passing.

These results are one reason why you'll see Gov. Brown -- and Munger -- portray their initiatives, which raise states taxes, as measures that are fundamentally about providing local services. And both will have a case to make on that front.

Brown's measure is part of his larger plan to do "realignment" -- by pushing responsibility for some state functions down to the local level. And Munger, with her initiative, proposes to open up a funding source for local schools that bypasses the state budget.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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