CalTax Foundation

Californians Pay $8.8 Billion Per Year in Local Tax Increases Approved in Past Decade

Voters approved 1,359 of the 1,956 local tax measures on the ballot in California from 2010 to 2020, representing a cumulative tax increase of more than $8.82 billion per year, the California Tax Foundation reported August 31.

The nonpartisan foundation released “Local Tax Trends in California: A Survey of Ballot Measure Elections From 2010-2020,” which details the passage rates of sales tax measures, parcel taxes, hotel taxes, and more.

In California, local taxes require voter approval – either by a simple majority or a two-thirds majority, depending upon the type of tax. The foundation’s report analyzes the passage rates under existing vote thresholds and the potential effects of changing the thresholds.

Findings include:

  • Voters Approved More Than $8.82 Billion in Annual Tax Increases. From 2010 to 2020, voters approved $8.82 billion in higher annual taxes and rejected $3.17 billion in higher annual taxes.
  • Roughly Half of the Proposed Taxes Were Special Taxes. Of the 1,956 local tax measures on the ballot, 984 were special taxes (those in which the revenue was earmarked for special purposes) and 972 were general taxes (where the revenue would go into the taxing entity’s general fund).
  • Proposition 13 Vote Requirement Saved Taxpayers $2.4 Billion Per Year. Proposition 13, the landmark property tax relief measure approved by voters in 1978, provides that special taxes cannot be imposed unless approved by at least two-thirds of the local electorate. If this vote requirement had not been in effect – so all local taxes could have been approved with a simple majority vote – Californians would be paying an estimated $2.4 billion per year in higher taxes due to local tax measures approved during the last decade.

In addition to analyzing the results by type of tax and vote threshold, the report examines the electoral process, including the prohibition against the use of public funds to support or oppose local tax measures.