California Dolphin: statewide California news

Opinion: Local tax measures on the ballot make inequality worse

Few if any states have governments more dominated by Democrats than California.  The state and most Bay Area jurisdictions are run by Democrats committed to alleviating inequality. And the most direct way governments influence income and wealth inequality is through taxes.
So why do we see on the ballot, and approve, local and regional proposals each election to make taxes more regressive — that, in other words, take a greater share from those with less?
We admittedly have one of the country’s most progressive state income taxes, and a millionaire’s tax to boot, which do take a larger share of income from those better able to pay.
At the same time, regressive taxes — notably the Social Security payroll tax and the sales tax (and, to a considerable extent, property taxes) — have massive impacts in the opposite direction as inequality worsens generally.

Get editorials, opinion columns, letters to the editor and more in your inbox weekday mornings. Sign up for the Opinion newsletter.

Yet, whenever more is needed for local or regional purposes, Californians collect it regressively, further offsetting the income tax’s progressive effects.
If we care about income and wealth inequality, isn’t it past time we take the equity effects of local propositions seriously?
For example, Oakland voters like me this election cycle face three new proposals, each to pass fees or regressive taxes that worsen inequality.
There’s Regional Measure 3, a Bay Area-wide transportation proposal that would increase bridge tolls;  Alameda County’s Measure A, to raise sales taxes to support pre-school and child care; and Oakland’s Measure D, a flat property tax increase for libraries.
All three are for great causes.
But they also each make inequality worse in a small way, and in the aggregate significantly.  This is ignored in campaigns promoting these measures, which trumpet only projected benefits.
The only way voters have to change this dynamic:   Vote no on all of them.
Raising tolls is the perfect regressive fee, taking the same flat amount from each driver regardless of income.  Raising sales taxes similarly increases prices equally for all — taking a greater share from those with less. A flat tax on single-family homes is starkly regressive among homeowners, adding $75 to each home regardless of the owners’ means (or even home value).
By adopting such measures rather than relying on the progressive state income tax or other potential progressive taxes, we help make disparities of wealth and income worse each election.
In some cases, drafters include “low-income” exemptions to suggest that equity is being considered, but this is largely a sham. Relatively few of those eligible claim exemptions under obscure, multifarious, time-consuming procedures that often require more to figure out than they’re worth.
Democrats control state government. They can modify how local governments are financed.  Legislators could at the state level create ‘piggy-back’ income taxes that localities could activate on top of the state portion.
That would allow local jurisdictions to still vote on incremental taxes but finance them progressively without having to set up their own local income tax systems, which violate current state law anyway.
Or in response to growing demand, the state income tax could be increased  to provide more to needed highways, childcare and libraries for which regional and local propositions are designed. Where legal or constitutional changes are required, legislators could pass them and put them before voters if needed.
We must start taking the inequality-worsening effects of local measures seriously and not support new taxes just because we want what they promise to buy.
To push our representatives in the progressive-tax direction, we must absolutely stop going along, and vote against every new regressive tax proposal, great goals though each may have.
The solution is to raise funds for local as well as state purposes from progressive taxes, according to payers’ means.
Related Articles





The 'Big Three' killing California's public services









Opinion: Why House should not make cuts to food stamp program









Walters: With less than 3 weeks to go, governor’s race remains murky









Opinion: Diverting mentally ill from jails into treatment benefits all









Commentary: Make sure your voice heard June 5



If Democratic state government in California can’t do this, where can it be done?
If not now, when?
Oakland resident Steve Koppman has worked as a government analyst at federal, state and local levels. He holds a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley. 
 

Top News

Ain't No God; don't even think about theism

UnFox News: not a propaganda arm of the Republican party