SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A record number of local tax and bond measures will fill the California ballot this November, including over $32 billion of proposed funding for education, infrastructure and homeless services.
Some 650 local measures will go before voters, including 427 revenue measures. That is considerably more than the number proposed during any of the last five gubernatorial or presidential elections, according to data compiled by the local government finance consulting firm CaliforniaCityFinance.com.
Previously, the most measure-packed election was in November 2014, with 268 local revenue measures.
California is one of 24 states that allow initiative rights to its citizens. Voter-approved measures are used to raise revenues for specific construction projects, change tax policy, or create new laws.
In the Golden State and nationwide, a boom in bond proposals follows years of federal cutbacks to state and local programs, continued low interest rates and years of unmet infrastructure needs.
The largest monetary requests by local municipalities in California include $3.5 billion for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), $1.2 billion for Los Angeles homeless housing and services, and $950 million for affordable housing in Santa Clara County.
There are 184 local measures to fund public school and community college projects, totaling more than $25 billion.
Michael Coleman, head of CaliforniaCityFinance.com, said the surge in education bond measures coincides with statewide Proposition 51, which authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds for public school facilities. Proposition 55 aims to increase education funding by extending upper income tax rates.
“There’s a lot of folks that think this is the time to go for a new school bond,” said Coleman. “They see it as a synchronous message, and time to get in line for matching funds.”
The Nov. 8 election is a focus for statewide propositions as well. There are 17 in total, regarding issues ranging from marijuana legalization to the public cost of prescription drugs, tobacco taxes and the death penalty.
The surge of ballot measures comes during an election year in which the presidential race is sure to draw large crowds to voting booths. There is also the lingering effect of low voter turnout during the November 2014 election that reduced the signature threshold for a proposition to qualify.
Across the country, 74 citizen-initiated measures fill state ballots, more than double the number certified in 2014, according to Natalie Cohen, senior analyst at Wells Fargo Securities. Growing populist sentiment and frustration with traditional government contributed to the groundswell, Cohen wrote in a recent report about upcoming ballot measures.
In California, some local measures are reactive to state propositions. For example, Proposition 64 aims to legalize recreational cannabis, and 37 local measures would create marijuana taxes for local cities and counties.
Thirteen countywide measures would fund transportation improvements. “That’s coming from an acknowledged, pent-up demand for badly needed infrastructure repairs,” Coleman said.
Eighty-eight measures would increase or extend local sale taxes. Another 39 support parcel taxes for road improvements, fire and emergency services, hospitals and police. Parcel taxes are flat taxes on properties that originated after Proposition 13 severely limited property taxes in 1978.
Three Bay Area measures would tax sugary beverages.
Reporting by Robin Respaut; Editing by Dan Grebler