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Voting booths at Hermosa Beach City Hall during the California Primary election. (Photo: wikimedia)

Taxes at a Standstill: How the Coronavirus Can Halt Ballot Initiatives in the Coming Years

California may also see more new ballot initiatives and levies voted down in the coming years

By Evan Symon, March 28, 2020 5:28 pm

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to keep people home and put the economy into a lull, the combined health and economic factors have made everyone from state officials to local activists worried about voters passing new taxes, bonds, and propositions on the ballot this coming November and beyond.

Reduced signature gathering and fewer ballot propositions

Of most immediate concern are for the ballot proposals currently needing voter signatures around the state. While there are dozens of proposals currently gathering signatures, only four have passed the threshold so far: Returning to a cash bail system, toughening up misdemeanor classifications, commercial tax changes, and expanded rent control. For many others relying on gathered signatures, the current stay-at-home order and coronavirus fears have largely slowed the gathering rate down.

“Normally we’d have people outside of grocery stores or libraries or other high-traffic, public places,” said Luis Campo, a Los Angeles County political consultant. “But almost every initiative right now has stopped that. No one is signing, especially with social distancing, and people don’t want that kind of close contact right now.

A lot of ballot initiatives have dried up just before the signature deadline next month. There’s that sports betting on tribal lands one that’s close, but also a plastic tax for disposable plastic products. These are potentially huge moneymakers for the state, and we may not vote on these for years to come, if at all.”

In recent years California ballots have had over a dozen ballot measures to vote on. 2016 alone had 17 measures for Californians to vote on. But in 2020, without a pickup in signatures, it could be anywhere from 4 to 8 based on recent projections.

“There’s a lot of potential taxes, tax changes, and issues that figure in to how much Californians need to pay on for thing like rent and consumer products,” added signature canvasser Trudy Wilcox. “And if we can’t get people to sign, it can mean lower taxes and lost revenue.”

A possible return to Great Recession levels of failed ballot measures

Longer term, the ensuing recession caused by the coronavirus can lead to fewer tax levies and initiatives being passed, which may have an effect on many local needs such as schools, emergency workers, and wage issues.

In 2010, in the wake of the Great Recession, a record number of tax levies appeared on ballots nationwide to regain lost tax funds. But with voters still wary and not willing to pay anymore due to losing so much, a record number of levies failed, many of which were in California. And experts say that’s likely to happen again.

“A lot of people are going to come out of this out of work, working for less, or being on the brink of losing a lot,” explained Campo. “And that means that they will not be wanting higher taxes or anything that will cost them income, even if the measure at hand would improve, say, healthcare for them. People want to choose where money goes in a crisis.

We just saw this happen with Prop 13. Schools wanted money for improvements, but many Californians felt overtaxed. There were other factors, but like usual, money was the big factor for Prop 13.

We’re going to see a lot of local and county measures in the next few years as their tax revenue goes down and they need something to fill it. Same thing happened 10 years ago. But we’re also going to have a public who simply can’t afford any new taxes at all, even if it benefits them or their community. Again, this happened 10 years ago.

The only outlier will be for anything public health related. Anything having to do with public health will play due to this hyper-awareness of public health now. EMS services might luck out with voters, and if, say, schools add a tax somewhere to ‘disinfect’ or something health related, it may have a much better chance.

Prop 13 tried that earlier this month with things like asbestos cleanup, but it went down. If schools try again for something like that, and include language saying ‘to prevent another coronavirus’, most parents will vote yes. There were some H1N1 fears ten years ago that got some things passed, although many of those were out of state.

But this is the reality many of these ballot measures face in 2020, 2021, and probably for a few years after. And voters will probably reject as many as possible without it impending on health.”

The current signature deadline in California is April 21st, but many groups trying to pass propositions are currently petitioning Governor Newsom for an extension until June because of the pandemic.

Evan Symon
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One thought on “Taxes at a Standstill: How the Coronavirus Can Halt Ballot Initiatives in the Coming Years

  1. So far, it’s stopped anti-gun , Fake Clean Energy, ( global Warming ) and more taxes Ballot initiatives being on he ballot here in Orygun. There aren’t any signature gathers and no ones out to sign them.. Thats just fine with me.

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