That's Enough Gridlock; Time to End the Two-Thirds Vote Threshold for Tax Measures

Robbie Column

February 2013 - California’s election rules are rigged in favor of failure, and one of the Building Trades top priorities for 2013 will be to realign those rules to make them more fair, just and productive.

As most citizens of this nation and residents of California already know, the federal government and even the state government, are to a large extent no longer funding or driving the oversight and construction of mass transit and other municipal infrastructure projects traditionally funded and driven by the federal and state government, such as the Hoover Dam and the Interstate Highway system. The rules have changed.

The burden of improving the everyday lives of citizens and residents has fallen on the shoulders of counties and cities. California has stepped up to this challenge, passing bonds and funding mechanisms at the local level.

There is widespread agreement among Californians that we need to address the issue of our non-existing, or old and outmoded mass transportation systems, and we urgently need to expand and improve them. That’s why, across the state, overwhelming majorities are voting in favor of tax increases to improve transportation.

Look at the results. Last November, 66 percent of Los Angeles voters supported Measure J to extend a half-cent sales tax increase for 30 years, to build and improve their transportation system. That’s an impressive consensus. Exactly the same thing happened in Alameda County in the Bay Area. There, as in Los Angeles, 66 percent voted for a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation. Even in rural Stanislaus County, in 2008, 66.4 percent voted for a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation. In that contest, 155,000 votes were cast, and the measure fell just 384 votes short of a two-thirds majority. What we have here is government, society and policy set by a small minority whose answer to everything is no.

All over California, the people are voting decisively to raise and spend money for transportation.  Despite those huge majorities, none of those measures passed. That’s because under our current rules, those tax measures require a two-thirds vote to pass. And each of those measures fell barely short of two thirds.

In Los Angeles, Measure J got 66.1 percent of the vote.  But it takes 66.7 percent. Out of 2.8 million votes cast, with the vast majority in support, the measure lost by just 15,961 votes. Again, rule by the minority.  So this time, we lost, and it was a costly defeat.

That guarantee of future revenue would have empowered us to finance more construction right now.  It would have given us power to finance more efficiently the desperately needed and long-awaited mass-transit system that has been missing from one of the largest cities of the nation.  With this revenue, Los Angeles would have benefited from better rates, freeing up more of that revenue for the roads and bridges and rails. Projects that we need right now, creating jobs we need right now.

Well it’s pretty clear that this arbitrary two-thirds requirement is causing great harm throughout California.  It is unfair and unjust, it is thwarting the will of the people, and it is harming our quality of life by blocking badly needed improvements for transportation and other infrastructure building.

This year, we are going to work in partnership with the Legislature to give California voters the ability to meet their own infrastructure needs. It’s in the state Constitution, so we need a constitutional amendment to adjust it.

Various measures have now been introduced to realign the threshold for passage of tax measures to not just a simple majority, but 55 percent – a strong majority of the voters in any election - rather than two-thirds for transportation, economic development, and other special purposes. This threshold is already used with great success to modernize and build new schools throughout the state of California.

We will work to get these measures through the Legislature and on the ballot. Then, if we are all united, fighting tenaciously together, we will make this crucial change. This infrastructure will be constructed by California workers for the benefit of California residents.

Californians are sick and tired of the gridlock imposed by the small minority of people who say no to everything.  It has harmed us all.

We will keep you informed about the progress of these measures, and when your action is needed to help move them forward, we will let you know.  Stay tuned.

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