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USC/LA Times Poll: California Independents support granting local governments new taxing powers

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

As Sacramento politicians continue to debate whether California has truly reached a balanced budget, a recent USC/LA Times poll revealed that a majority of the state's Independents (53%) would favor granting local governments new taxing powers to compensate for state budget cuts.

Independents joined 65% of self-identified Democrats in approving such a measure by a majority instead of the required two -thirds vote. Only 43% of Republicans approved of the idea, according to the poll's findings.

As posed by pollsters, California voters would give local governments and school districts new taxing powers to raise revenues on specific items that the state is allowed to tax. These items would include alcoholic and sweetened beverages, tobacco products, and oil extraction. At least one top state legislator, Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), is pushing a piece of legislation that allows local legislatures to even tax marijuana and residents' incomes and cars. This of course would be subject to voter approval.

The gap between Californians overall who approve of the idea versus those who don't is quite a significant one, being supported by 55% and not approved by 39%. In discussing the poll, Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times said that the support the idea enjoyed in the poll was strong when Californians were presented with both the pro and con arguments.

     "What was surprising is that people really supported this when we laid out the arguments for and against these subsidies [...]. When it comes down to it, would they want to see cuts in services and schools or having to pay more taxes? Are they willing to part with these subsidies for private businesses?," he said in a video explaining the poll's results.

The pro argument as framed by those conducting the poll is that local governments need options for raising revenue and that those decisions need to be left up to voters in the area. The con argument presented to respondents in the same poll is that the state legislature should not make it easier for local governments to raise taxes at a time when California taxpayers are financially crunched.  Interestingly enough, the poll's findings showed that Latino support for the measure plummeted by 12 points when they were presented with these pro and con arguments. 

While voters might be queasy at the idea of local tax increases on goods and services, the core concept proposed in the survey could be an important step toward allowing communities to control their own destinies.  The elementary truth about elections, both at the national and local levels, is that voters in the community can change out their politicians if they feel their representatives are getting too carried away with the power to tax. After all, in giving local residents more control over goods and services normally provided by the state, these locals can evaluate whether these certain items are cost-effective and necessary.   Furthermore, since local communities may know better than the distantly-removed body of Sacramento politicians, it would be natural for the local community to evaluate how to best customize and improve vital services.

The USC/LA Times poll surveyed 1,507 registered voters from July 6-17 with a margin of error of +/- 2.52 points. It was a bipartisan survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (a Democratic firm) and American Viewpoint (a Republican company). 

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