Government Bytes


California local election results

by Brent Mead / /

While the statewide issue results NTU analyzed earlier this week earned the most post-election media coverage, the bulk of NTU’s 2012 California Primary Ballot Guide focused on the almost 100 local measures. Results on these issues were somewhat mixed but contained definite bright spots for taxpayers.

NTU rated 10 measures as lowering taxes or limiting government. Of these, only two failed. While the decision of local voters in the City of Auburn to reject changing to a charter city is certainly a blow, the other failed measure in the City of Riverside to post contracts online instead of in print newspapers is a relatively minor issue. On the positive side, the 8 measures that passed included two pension reform measures in San Diego and San Jose that garnered national attention. San Diego also voted to prohibit the city from requiring “project labor agreements”. PLA’s, in essence, require the city to use unionized labor which tends to inflate project costs and increase burdens on taxpayers.

On the increased tax and spending side, results were decidedly less beneficial to taxpayers. 54 of the 85 negative measures passed. The majority of these measures are local school bonding and local parcel tax increases. More traditional tax measures, even targeted tax increases, had mixed results. In San Mateo County voters narrowly approved a gross receipts tax on rental car companies. However, those same voters rejected an increase in the hotel occupancy tax and a gross receipts tax on parking lot operators.

Below you can find a table of our results. It is difficult to draw any trends out of Tuesday’s elections on local measures. While this is certainly not a ground-breaking statement, the results tended to be localized. Voters cast their ballots based on perceived local needs and did not show any sweeping tendency to pass or reject certain types of measures.

Results from Local Measures with Net Fiscal Impact Highlighted in NTU’s Ballot Guide


Total Number

Number Approved

Number Rejected





Measures that would

lower taxes/limit government




Measures that would

raise taxes/expand government




Although a roughly even overall win/loss record for state and local ballot measures may not seem ideal to cost-conscious citizens, it could have been much worse. California requires varying thresholds of support in order to enact tax increases at the ballot box. Bond measures typically require 55 percent support for passage and so-called special taxes require 2/3 support for instance. If all tax and spending measures required a simple majority then an additional 15 measures that would raise taxes or expand government would have passed. These enhanced requirements prove themselves vital election after election to protect taxpayers’ wallets.

Finally, at the local it is important to note that virtually all school bond, parcel tax, and special tax proponents set up campaign committees and organize to push their tax hikes. Opposition groups rarely mount the sort of organized effort required to educate voters on the true fiscal impacts of what is proposed. All too often, opposition groups fail to submit simple statements against the measures to the local boards of elections. It is difficult to fight against billions of dollars in bonds when voters lack such basic information. Providing that information is a major reason why NTU released our ballot guide and why we will continue to do so in the future.