Schools, cities and counties asking for $20 billion in new taxes

voteThe ballot California voters will tackle on election day is a long one, with dozens of candidates and 11 statewide propositions. While a lot of attention has been devoted to those choices, little has been given to scores of local ballot measures asking for permission to borrow or tax in communities — proposals totaling some $20 billion for schools, cities and counties.

How the local measures ended up on the ballot depends on the community, though all were written by local officials. There are other common threads too — many of these governments have limited options when it comes to funding. State income taxes go to Sacramento; property taxes are constrained by the rules under California’s landmark Proposition 13. And the dollars that do flow from the state and federal governments are often earmarked and off-limits for use on general community needs.

Local dollars are hard to raise at the ballot box. While statewide propositions only need a 50%-plus-1 of the votes cast, some municipal measures need more to succeed. Local bonds require a supermajority vote, with most school construction bonds requiring 55% voter approval. The threshold for taxes, meanwhile, is counterintuitive. Taxes aimed for a narrow purpose or program must win two-thirds of ballots cast. But if it’s for broad government operations, a new tax can be imposed with a simple majority. …

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