Local and State Initiatives – The Future of Policy in California?

Grassroots activists in California point to the initiative process as a potent and underutilized last resort, capable of ushering in sweeping reforms. They’re right, but the initiative process is equally available to California’s progressives, backed by powerful special interests. And while the activist reformers talk, the progressives act.

How else to explain the hundreds of local ballot initiatives that are marketed to voters in California’s cities and counties every time there’s an election, which in aggregate soak taxpayers for billions in new taxes every year? In November 2016, out of 224 local tax proposals, voters approved over 70 percent, adding $2.9 billion in new taxes. In November 2018, out of 259 local tax measures, voters approved another estimated $1.6 billion per year in new taxes.

The vast majority of these tax measures are sponsored by special interests who stand to gain from their passage. In fact, many if not most local tax measures are supported by elected officials representing city and county governments, and they utilize the resources of their agencies to promote these measures. As California Policy Center President Will Swaim wrote in 2016, “Despite multiple legal decisions limiting the practice, municipal officials in California may be paying outside consultants to run the campaign to sell you on your local tax measure.”

The way public agencies get away with this is under the guise of “educating” the voters about the impact of new taxes. “Education,” of course, is a word with a broad range of defensible […] Read More