California Voters: Take Your Pick of Multiple Tax Initiatives on the Ballot

October 20, 2016

California voters will decide a number of statewide tax-related ballot initiatives, but most voters will also decide local tax-related ballot initiatives. Below are some highlights.

Los Angeles County Measure M: Transportation Sales Tax

Measure M would raise the sales tax by a half-cent and make permanent an existing half-cent sales tax that is due to expire in 2038. The taxes would fund specified transportation improvements, including extensions of the rail system to LAX, Westwood, Claremont, Crenshaw, Norwalk, Artesia, Sepulveda Pass, and eastern San Fernando Valley, and highway improvements to I-5, I-605, and I-710. The tax requires a two-thirds vote to be approved. It would be in addition to two existing half-cent transportation sales taxes — Proposition A (adopted 1980, permanently) and Proposition C (adopted 1990, permanently) — and would extend Measure R (adopted 2008 to run until 2038).

Los Angeles’s current 9 percent sales tax is the 13th highest of major cities in the United States. A 9.5 percent sales tax would be tied for eighth highest, matching Oakland and moving ahead of Memphis and Nashville (9.25 percent). It would still be below Chicago (10.25 percent), New Orleans (10 percent), and Seattle (9.6 percent).

Sacramento County Measure B: Transportation Sales Tax

Measure B would raise the sales tax by a half-cent for 30 years to fund specified transportation improvements, including a new expressway between Elk Grove and Folsom, a downtown Sacramento streetcar, and a light rail extension to the airport and Elk Grove. If passed, the combined sales tax rate would be 8.5 percent in Sacramento County and 9 percent in the City of Sacramento.

The Measure B tax would be in addition to the existing Measure A half-cent transportation sales tax, and requires a two-thirds vote to be approved.

San Diego County Measure A: Transportation Sales Tax

Measure A would raise the sales tax by a half-cent for 40 years to fund specified transportation improvements, including a San Ysidro-Kearny Mesa trolley line, new rapid bus lines, a relocated airport transit station, expanded rail frequencies, and highway improvements to I-5, I-8, I-805, SR-52, SR-78, SR-94, and SR-125. The tax would be in addition to the existing TransNet transportation sales tax, approved initially in 1987 and renewed in 2004 to run until 2048. The tax requires a two-thirds vote to be approved. San Diego’s current 8 percent sales tax is the 51st highest of major cities in the country; raising it to 8.5 percent would have it tie for 21st highest.

San Diego City Measure C: Stadium Hotel Tax

Measure C would raise the hotel tax from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent, to raise between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion to fund an NFL-ready football stadium and a convention center expansion. (The hotel tax is currently 10.5 percent with an additional 2 percent in tourism marketing district assessments on some hotels; this proposal would eliminate those TMDs.) The NFL’s San Diego Chargers, should they agree to use the new stadium, would contribute an additional $650 million to the project. A poll in early October found 36 percent support for Measure C, 41 percent opposed, and 23 percent not sure. The tax requires a two-thirds vote to be approved. The tax increase would push San Diego’s hotel tax to among the highest in the country, behind Chicago (17.4 percent), Houston (17 percent), Anaheim (17 percent), Indianapolis (17 percent), and San Antonio (16.75 percent), and equaling Philadelphia (16.5 percent).

San Diego City Measure D: Hotel Tax Reorganization

Measure D is also a hotel tax increase, raising it from 12.5 percent to 15.5 percent, with a lower 14 percent rate for smaller hotels and lodging businesses and credits for contributions to tourism marketing and convention center expansion. The city would be prohibited from spending money to expand the convention center and it does not provide money for a new football stadium, but authorizes the sale of the land on which the existing Qualcomm Stadium sits.

San Diego City Measure N: Local Marijuana Tax

Measure N authorizes a local marijuana tax of 5 percent, rising to 8 percent in 2019, and capped at 15 percent, if California legalizes recreational marijuana.

San Francisco Proposition J and Proposition K: Local Sales Tax

San Francisco voters face a full ballot, with 17 statewide measures, local propositions A through X, and a regional BART transportation bond proposal. Two of the local measures, Propositions J and K, would raise the city’s sales tax by 0.75 percentage points, from 8.5 percent to 9.25 percent. (The tax is currently 8.75 percent but will automatically drop to 8.5 percent on January 1, 2017.)

Technically, Proposition K raises the tax and Proposition J directs the money to homeless services ($50 million per year) and transportation ($101.6 million per year). If both the tax increase and the direction for how the money is to be spent were in the same proposition, then it would require a two-thirds vote to be approved under California’s constitution. Because it is instead structured as a general tax increase, it requires only a simple majority. However, it also means that the sales tax revenues are not bound to be spent on those items, and could be changed in future years.

San Francisco’s current 8.75 percent sales tax is the 19th highest of major cities in the United States. A 9.25 percent sales tax would be tied for 10th highest, matching Memphis and Nashville and moving ahead of Los Angeles (9 percent) and New York City (8.875 percent). It would still be below Chicago’s 10.25 percent.

More entries in our series on Top Ballot Initiatives to Watch in 2016.

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