Locals Can Tax Themselves, Says Democratic Plan

Comments (6)

Getty/Kevork Djansezian

More government services in the Bay Area? Fewer in the Inland Empire? You'd be forgiven if you think that's a rehash of last week's debate over budget cuts targeted at GOP communities.

But it could also be the shape of things to come under Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's bill to give locals more power to tax themselves... presumably if Sacramento lawmakers will not.

Given the Senate's Democratic majority, it's not surprising the bill moved forward. The bigger question, though, is what impact it might have on the budget stalemate.

In fact, much of this morning's debate over SB 653 seemed to be more about state than local budgeting. Steinberg's bill is both simple and clever: local governments -- a county, city, even a school district -- would be able to impose a number of taxes which are now the exclusive province of the state, as long as the voters approve.

The taxes under the bill that could be raised on the local level: income taxes, vehicle license fees (the infamous "car tax"), oil severance taxes, alcohol or other excise taxes, and cigarette taxes.

"The whole point of the bill," said Steinberg in his presentation today, "is in the absence of adequate state funding, to give communities a choice."

As suggested at the outset, think for a moment how similar SB 653 is -- philosophically, at least -- to the hotly debated idea floated last week of imposing spending cuts, under a 'no new revenue' budget, specifically on GOP legislative districts. Steinberg's bill simply shifts the focus of that fight from punishing communities, via state-mandated cuts, to rewarding them by giving more tax options via local elections.

(And Steinberg made a special point that those taxes would still be subject to a two-thirds vote of locals, a hurdle that's historically been quite high.)

Opponents argued both the policy and the politics against the bill. Gina Rodriquez of the California Taxpayers Association. "We need to get the state's house in order," she said, "not support the creation of potentially more than 1,000 new taxing jurisdictions." Critics also lamented the economic impact of additional taxes, should they be approved by voters.

And then there's the matter of this year's budget. The bill would do nothing to change the actual implementation or solution of the state's current fiscal crisis, but it could -- if passed and ultimately signed by Governor Jerry Brown -- shift future debates over government services and dollars away from Sacramento. And it's reasonable to assume that Republican-heavy regions of the state might suffer under that system.

"You have postulated here a whole plethora of taxes," said Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) in this morning's hearing. "It seems as a part of the scare tactics" of the budget debate, he said.

Whether the bill actually makes it to Governor Brown's desk is, for now, beside the point. Whether it resets the 2011 budget jigsaw puzzle in such a way that the pieces fit together more easily... that's the one to watch.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • merijoe

    I just called one of my supervisors (Pat Bates) of OC to find out what they think of this bill authored by Steinburg(stinkbug)- spoke with Don Hughs-her Chef of staff

    He was very candid with me, states Pat and the rest of the other supervisors are not for acting upon it. They are glad for the control but will never act on it

    States Orange county doesnt need more taxes (2%) and most likely no extra taxes will be imposed thru local goverments anywhere-read me the list of those who are for it- most all Unions, San bernardino, LA and San francisco USD’s, state council, local businesses and chambers
    List shows no govts -but that could change after todays hearing (senate)

    He feels this is a “pass the buck” bill courtesy of Jerry Brown and Stinkbug for they, knowing full well that locals govts will never go for it, can blame the local govts for the budget woes on the TV and take the heat off them to “encourage” voting in his budget plan

    They know Steinburg well, say hes a nice guy except when he tries to govern

    653 is all a manipulation/manuver from Darrell Stinkbug/Jerriatric Brown to get their agenda passed

  • http://www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/blog.jsp John Myers

    Just to be accurate, list of supporters of the bill includes California State Association of Counties and Yolo County (rural county west of Sacramento).

  • Churchlady

    This is a very good idea since local control was taken away by Prop. 13. Restoring sovereignty at the local level for local wants and needs is critical for those counties and localities that need revenues for the mandated services they must provide. What two conservative counties think is not definitive – they do not HAVE to do this, but they may if they like and voters wish. That is the essence of democracy in action, so yes. This is a very good plan that gives absolutely free choice to counties and their residents.

  • merijoe

    This is a horrible idea churchlady-you must work for a union or a govt agency to even utter those words.
    We, the real taxpaying people, are already screwed to the pooch with taxes, additional taxes shouldn’t be considered democracy, its plain old greed from folk who mistakenly have the idea that they are royalty-a mafiaoso payola.
    And further, what the “two conservative” counties or any amount of counties anywhere, say or do to the taxpayers of their county matters –
    They DONT and never should have to squeeze out more money from the taxpayers, They have enough of our taxmoney to pay for crap and dont need more to pay YOUR pension, churchlady.
    If they even think about increasing taxes, for any reason, I will be out with my protest signs, and will make sure the media knows-there will be such a backlash and thats DEFINITE.

  • tcsmith

    I work for a large company that delivers distance education and employs faculty across the nation. A couple of years ago, one of the faculty moved to a town in Ohio that has a local income tax. Even though the city permitted him to file estimated taxes, the company he worked for fired him because the payroll contractor they used would charge about $340 per month to handle the local payroll taxes.

  • hello

    @merijoe: Does your company contract with the State or County? If so then the State or County is paying your salary. Of course the State or County is also saving you on mechanics cost (you have paved roads), on insurance costs (you have fire fighters and police), and makes jobs available (corporations follow brains and brains follow institutions of higher learning), the cost of books (libraries), the cost of health care (imagine how much your health insurance would cost if your HMO had to insure the 40% of Californians who can’t afford health insurance) and much more. But those are all indirect benefits. The direct benefits you personally get is when you bring your check home–because it’s an extremely good bet that whoever you are working for is contracting or subcontracting with the State, feds or County.