Most Sales Tax Initiatives Passed in California

As the dust settles on the November 2016 election, our city leaders have vowed to move on and reconvene to live within our means. The wide margin failure of Measure D – the proposed half-cent general sales tax increase intended to boost funds for public safety – has many in the community scratching their heads in search of future solutions for safer streets and neighborhoods.

In the thirty days following the election, I looked at fifty-nine other cities in California that proposed similar revenue increasing measures to see if I could find any clues as to why most cities were successful in asking for more funds for public safety and other services. After all, 85% of the other proposed general sales tax measures in the state passed.

Initially, I was inclined to share my full analysis of the election. Upon further reflection, I have decided that it is more important to look to the future rather than dissect the past. Our community needs to heal the divide between our leadership and its citizens in order to move forward. This will happen if we come together in the spirit of collaboration and start to use successful strategy found in other cities as a guidepost for our own operations.

For this reason, I wish to publish the raw data of a portion of my findings to allow the public to draw its own conclusions. I hope it provides additional insight that will be useful in elections to come.

The following database is a collection of data from sixty cities that had a general sales tax ordinance on the California November 2016 ballot. The highlighted rows depict cities that split their sales tax proposal into two measures – a tax measure and an accompanying advisory measure. Political preference data was determined by county using a map provided by the Public Policy Institute of California. The marketing column shows what other cities did to promote or oppose their measures. More marketing may exist. This information was what was readily accessible on Google.

If anyone has any questions on my specific findings, please message me on Facebook at

I wish you warm and happy holidays!

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    The information contained in the database was very interesting and illuminating. Thank you for the time and effort you expended in compiling it.

  2. Avatar JeffG says:

    Looks like putting “911” in the text is a sure-fire way to get a measure passed, while using vague language like “general purposes” has less chance of success, especially in conservative jurisdictions.

  3. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Thank you for sharing your work.  The text for most of the measures that passed was clear and specific about how the money would be spent.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      If you read them carefully, most weren’t specific at all—they were weasel-worded.  They lead with public safety services—the chum ladled into the water—but go on to include maintaining schools, fixing potholes, etc.  I also noticed a tendency to include: “…to raise funds that cannot be taken by the state.”  I’ll bet that’s something of a tautology—true not because it’s stated thus in the measure, but because that’s what a local sales tax increase is.

      The take-home lesson: Weasel-word a measure for a general fund sales tax increase to sound like it’s for a bunch of specific stuff (amounting to pretty much everything the city government does).  Measure D was just too honest.

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Excellent tabular presentation of the data.  It would be interesting to include a column showing what the total sales tax would be in each city had all the measures passed.  Liberal San Francisco rejected a tax increase that would have raised their sales tax to 9.25%, so there’s an apparent upper limit.  Joe Bowers, who works as a number-cruncher for REU, pointed out to me that Redding has the luxury of being able to increase its sales tax by a half cent just to get to the median sales tax for California’s cities (8%), and spend all of the new revenue it wishes.  Most other California cities facing the same challenges as Redding don’t have that luxury—they’re already at or above 8%, and revenues produced by their higher tax rates are already obligated.

    Reddingites could—if they wanted to be fiscally responsible—raise the sales tax to 8%, spend half of the new revenue as intended under Measures D & E, and the other half on the so-called unfunded pension liabilities.  But as I’ve pointed out before, fixing the unfunded pension problem by proposing to fund it is a deal-killer.  There’s far too much seething resentment in Redding regarding city employee salaries, benefits, and pensions. Measure D failed, in my opinion, specifically because voters thought that the City would sooner or later siphon that new revenue into the pension pot, and they weren’t having it. The City leaders who figure out how to cool down Redding’s stewing cauldron of resentment, distrust, and anti-tax conservatism to get a sorely needed sales tax hike done will be a pack of geniuses.

    • Avatar Richard Christoph says:



      Below is a link to the tax rates in California’s cities and counties. I had posted this several times in various venues for comparison purposes, but it clearly had little persuasive effect.  Most Californian’s pay higher or much higher sales tax rates than we here in Redding/Shasta County.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        I posted lists of sales tax rates of other California cities myself, to make the point that we have room to move, but the sense I get is that Reddingites just take it to mean that all of those prosperous cities up and down the coastal counties are taxing themselves to death.  And among those that understand Joe’s logic—which I take to be compelling—most seem to embrace Grover Norquist’s philosophy: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”  Either that, or they think fiscal responsibility (of the type that involves paying for what you receive) is for chumps.

  5. Avatar JeffG says:

    Any analysis on why Siskiyou’s jail measure didn’t pass?

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Similar to our Measure D, it was a general fund tax increase.  My guess would be that North Siskiyou County voters don’t trust the County to obligate the money over the long haul to pay off the construction loan, and Mt. Shasta-area voters were reluctant to vote for more jail space until  the Sheriff has tried alternative forms of rehabilitation (e.g., Native American sweat lodge group encounters, green tea colon cleanses, crystal healing, ayahuasca ceremonies, etc.).

  6. Avatar Russell K. Hunt says:

    If other city’s are committing fiscal suicide, what do we care ?  Why follow the lemmings to the next Third Reich ? We should have a pro-growth attitude and lower developer fees. School development fees in districts with declining  enrollment  are illegal. Redding needs to annex the the surrounding   community services districts whose residents benefit from Redding’s facilities. The Enterprise area has a huge aquifer we could share with these dry districts. Redding has 50% below capacity in our sewer system. Redding needs to let customers go 100% solar if they desire. This provides more juice for all. Privatize fire and garbage collection as well as development services to stop the pension bleeding. Annex the Churn Creek Bottom for commercial development sharing tax revenue with the county 50-50.  Higher taxes squash growth. Socialism never works.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      If you think the cities in California’s coastal counties are committing fiscal suicide, you need to get out of town more often.

    • Avatar Claude says:

      Step one would be to calculate the revenue generated by the areas you want to annex and compare it to the infrastructure costs that the city would incur.
      Due to thelow density of the areas outside the city center, most (pretty much all!) outer regions have a high infrastructure cost per tax unit, so unless the taxes are extremely high the maintenance and repair costs will increase much faster than the revenue stream.
      At best the city might have a short term boost in revenue while the infrastructure is in good repair, but as it needs to be maintained, the costs will overwhelm what the city had received over the years.
      And so a spiral of increasing debt and budget shortfall drags down the city.