Last week came news that the California School Boards Association finally submitted its long-discussed ballot measure to the state Attorney General’s office to begin the process of qualifying it for the November 2020 general election ballot.
According to EdSource, the so-called “Public School Progress, Prosperity, and Accountability Act of 2020” (click here to read the language of the proposal) “would increase taxes for corporations earning more tan $1 million by up to 5 percentage points and personal income taxes for those earning more than $1 million annually by 1.5 percentage points.” It is estimated that this measure would be a $15 billion annual tax increase.
Interestingly, the CSBA tax increase proposal would compete with another massive tax increase proposal supported by a host of liberal interest groups.
The competing “Schools and Communities First” initiative would impose a “split-roll” property tax scheme to gut Prop. 13’s protections for commercial property and assess office and commercial buildings at a higher tax. If passed, that tax proposal is estimated to be a roughly $11 billion annual tax increase. An estimated $4.5 billion would go to K-12 schools and community colleges each year.
In a strange twist, Politico reported that proponents had already collected the required 585,407 signatures required to place the measure on the November ballot. But they have decided to refile a new version of the measure to boost its chances of passage, and now must collect a fresh batch of at least 997,113 signatures to qualify it for 2020.
Back in the day, it would be unthinkable that two massive tax hike proposals would have any chance of passing statewide. In fact, most political observers would have argued that two competing multi-billion dollar tax increase measures on the same ballot would effectively “cancel one another out” and be rejected by tax-weary voters. Remember in 2012 that a $10 billion annual tax increase (Proposition 38) was rejected by voters, who ultimately approved former Gov. Jerry Brown’s smaller tax “extension” proposal (Proposition 30).
So, why are these groups now going “all in” with such a politically risky strategy?
As the exit polls and results show, the 2018 general election produced a solidly liberal electorate that elected historic Democratic majorities in the Legislature and flipped 7 GOP congressional seats. Tax increase proponents and others are counting on a similar – or even more liberal – electorate showing up to vote in 2020.
This is likely why the Legislature just voted to place a staggering $15 billion school bond measure on the March primary ballot, rather than push a smaller bond amount that would surely be easier to pass. What a change in thinking from 2016 when former Gov. Brown opposed a statewide school bond measure that was later approved by voters – balking at the $9 billion price tag.
It also likely explains why less than 2 years after forcing the Legislature to pass a watered-down version of the privacy measure he sought to qualify for the ballot, multimillionaire developer Alastair Mactaggart is back again seeking to qualify and pass a more expansive privacy measure in 2020. He’s clearly calculating that a more liberal electorate will ultimately approve his stricter privacy initiative.
And it also is likely the thinking behind proponents of a statewide rent control ballot measure trying again for 2020. This proposal is being pushed despite the fact that voters overwhelming rejected 2018’s Proposition 10 – even with a strongly liberal electorate coming to the polls that year.
Together, these groups are betting that a strongly-liberal electorate will give their big government policy wish list its best chance of passage in decades.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.