Loss of supermajority in Senate could doom vote on 55 percent majority for parcel tax

Source: Wikimedia Commons

California State Capitol. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The exit of two Democratic state senators – one as a result of a criminal conviction, the other by indictment – leaves supporters of a proposal to make it easier to pass a school parcel tax back where they’ve been for a decade, needing one Republican vote to put the issue before voters.

Sen. Ron Calderon’s announcement Sunday that he would take an indefinite leave of absence while awaiting trial on two dozen bribery charges leaves Senate Democrats with 26 members, just below the two-thirds, veto-proof majority of 27 votes needed to pass taxes and put constitutional amendments on the election ballot. They already had lost a cushion they had with the exit last month of Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, who also took a leave of absence after his conviction on eight felony counts for lying about residency in his district.

Backers of a constitutional amendment on the parcel tax are cursing their luck. The proposed constitutional amendment, which was shelved last year and has yet to be formally reintroduced this year, would lower the threshold needed to pass a school parcel tax from two-thirds majority to 55 percent, the same level as it takes to pass a school construction bond.

The co-sponsors, Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, were hoping this would be the year they could put the measure on the November ballot. Democrats had a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and Senate before Wright and Calderon ran into trouble. Senators could have voted to expel one or both, leading to primary elections as early as June to elect their successors. But Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, instead allowed both Wright and Calderon to take a leave, enabling them to collect their salary while depriving Democrats of a supermajority.

Wright is hoping that a judge will throw out the conviction before his sentencing May 15. If Wright is sentenced then, Gov. Jerry Brown could call a special election, but Hill on Monday said he doubted a successor could be seated by the end of the legislative session on Aug. 15.

Hill’s predecessor, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, had proposed a similar constitutional amendment for the 55 percent majority parcel tax during the eight years he was in the Senate, when Democrats were just shy of a supermajority, but he could never find a Republican to help get it on the ballot.

Hill said he was still hoping he could find a Republican colleague willing to let voters decide for themselves whether the lower threshold was a good idea. That will not be easy in an election year. A spokesman for Sen. Jean Fuller, a former school superintendent from Bakersfield, said the senator would express no opinion until she has seen the actual wording. A spokesman for Sen. Anthony Cannella, viewed as an independent voice on some issues, said he has opposed the idea. To build a broader base of support, one option would be to broaden the proposed amendment to lower to 55 percent the threshold for transportation and library bonds as well. A spokesperson from Leno’s office said Monday that the senator remains committed to moving forward with the proposed amendment this year.

Parcel taxes must be uniform by law: Cottages, castles and multi-unit dwellings must pay the same amount. Although parcel taxes are a regressive form of taxation, they also are one of the few ways that local districts can boost revenues for their schools. They’ve been most prevalent in the Bay Area, but over the past four decades, only about 124 districts – about one in eight – have passed them and only about one in 10 now have them in effect, according to a 2013 research study by EdSource. That study, Raising Revenues Locally, found that, had the 55 percent threshold been in effect from the start, 87 percent of parcel tax proposals overall would have passed, compared with just over half approved under the two-thirds requirement. Those districts in between 55 percent and two-thirds had a significantly higher percentage of English learners and low-income children than the districts that successfully enacted a parcel tax under current law.

Two polls in 2013, by the Public Policy Institute of California and by USC Dornsife/LA Times, found less than half of voters liked the idea. However, the enactment of the Local Control Funding Formula last year, returning control over budgeting decisions to local school districts, made proponents optimistic that more voters would be open to new, easier-to-pass options for additional revenue.

The loss of the two-thirds majority also could affect Brown’s proposals to amend a ballot measure, already scheduled to go before voters in November, strengthening the state’s rainy day fund.

John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

Filed under: Legislation, State Education Policy

Tags: , , , ,


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment Policy

EdSource encourages a robust debate on education issues and welcomes comments from our readers.

  • To preserve a civil dialogue, writers should avoid personal, gratuitous attacks and invective.
  • Comments should be relevant to the subject of the article responded to.
  • EdSource retains the right not to publish inappropriate and offensive comments.
  • EdSource encourages commenters to use their real names. Commenters who do decide to use a pseudonym should use it consistently.
  • Please limit comments to 250 words to prevent comment clutter; if you intend to say more please link out to a place that contains your full comment.
  • Comments with more than one link automatically enter moderation. Comments from new commenters are automatically moderated.
  • Repeated violation of this comment policy will lead to a warning. Continued violations will lead to a ban.

13 Responses to “Loss of supermajority in Senate could doom vote on 55 percent majority for parcel tax”

EdSource does not track who "likes or dislikes" a comment. We only track the number of likes and dislikes.

  1. CarolineSF on Mar 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm03/5/2014 12:04 pm

    • 000

    The obvious options for revising Prop. 13 would not affect elderly homeowners’ taxes in the slightest: the split roll, so that corporations didn’t enjoy protection from being taxed on the appreciation of their property; and allowing a majority vote to pass a parcel tax.


    • Floyd Thursby on Mar 15, 2014 at 3:26 am03/15/2014 3:26 am

      • 000

      Agreed. We’re actually 4th in taxes, behind NY, CT and NJ, the Tri-State area, but Prop 13 was awful law. They should get rid of it for corporations and means test it for everyone else, just like rent control should be means tested. The biggest problem is that 95% of the economic growth since 2008 has gone to the top 1%. That’s unsustainable and unfair.

  2. tressy capps on Mar 5, 2014 at 11:48 am03/5/2014 11:48 am

    • 000

    California is the highest taxed state in the nation. Irony that two criminals helped out on this one! Maybe you can propose a bill that sends the pension monies of criminals such as these two men back to the schools instead of looking to struggling taxpayers for even more money! Prop 13 keeps many elderly citizens who can barely afford to live here now, in their homes. Leave Prop 13 alone. By the way, there is no such thing as luck. Just deserts, you bet!


    • Don on Mar 5, 2014 at 7:18 pm03/5/2014 7:18 pm

      • 000


      California may be the highest tax state but is 49th in spending on schools last I heard. Are you telling me that we should undereducate our state so that seniors won’t have to move? Many people move when they retire. But this line of argument is a strawman anyway. It’s the commercial interest that are most behind the continuance of Prop 13. I am very much against the tax and spend mentality of the mainstream democrats, but Prop 13 is just bad law. It has forced more regressive taxes like sales tax to make up the difference. We spend way too much money in this state on government, but not school government, and corporate welfare.

  3. Michael G on Mar 5, 2014 at 9:15 am03/5/2014 9:15 am

    • 000

    Amending Prop 13 in general only has 40% support. It might be higher for particular things like libraries or schools but likely not by much. So even if the 55% amendment got on the ballot there is no guarantee it would pass. The rough rule of thumb is that you need to be at 66% support by Feb. before the campaign because the opposition will whittle your support down by about 15% before the voting. This is likely why they didn’t try to get the prop on the ballot earlier – it would have provided too much time and too well defined a target for the opposition to gather their forces.

    Logically, you would think that if a majority would vote for parcel taxes they would vote to repeal the Prop 13 that stopped their vote from becoming reality but people don’t work that way. There is a general suspicion that with all the resources govt and agencies have and their ability to suppress unfavorable information (simply refusing to obey public info laws is very popular) it is too easy to influence the voters. Therefore, the reasoning goes, govt. should be held to a much higher standard of justification than required to get 50% support. Many of the 66% who voted for High Speed Rail regret their vote and will be thinking of that on every bond issue coming up. HSR would fail to get 50% now. Every such boondoggle taints all bond issues.

    It would be very interesting to find out why the parcel taxes that failed did so. Demographics doesn’t explain much. How about a detailed examination of why people vote against more school money? My impression is too many govt. and schools do a very poor job of explaining why they want more money. They seem to assume that because they are in a “virtuous” occupation that they shouldn’t have to explain much.

  4. Don on Mar 4, 2014 at 10:36 pm03/4/2014 10:36 pm

    • 000

    Be careful what you wish for. Parcel taxes may seem like a good idea, but until we get rid of Prop 13 such funding fixes only serve to rewrite the education map back to the days of the have and the have-not districts.


    • Paul on Mar 5, 2014 at 12:17 am03/5/2014 12:17 am

      • 000

      You’re absolutely right, Don. I don’t mean to push any sort of local tax as a solution to inadequate state-level school funding.

      I’ve often argued on these pages that local taxes* create both financial and political inequality. Obviously, such taxes are more likely to be proposed, and to pass, in high-income areas. As high income-earners, the voters in those areas have political clout. Because they’ve “solved” the school funding problem for their own children, they no longer have a reason to use their political influence to secure adequate state-level funding for all public school students. The voters with the most influence are, in effect, co-opted.

      I’ve gone so far as to argue that voluntarism and donations work in the same insidious way.

      It’s much like a “Don’t feed the wildlife” sign. A compassionate local action turns out to be unhealthy at the system level.

      * San Francisco’s PEEF and rainy day reserve are exceptions, as they involve transfers of base City revenue. When a city decides to contribute existing tax revenue to education, it is doing something that other cities are free to emulate.

  5. Paul on Mar 4, 2014 at 8:54 pm03/4/2014 8:54 pm

    • 000

    Well, it was fun while it lasted! It seems that not even a supermajority and a same-party governor were enough to keep the Democratic state legislators cohesive and focused. Now the opportunity is lost. If there are special elections, you can bet that the Republicans will pull out all the stops to prevent a supermajority from ever occurring again.

    Re: the regressive nature of parcel taxes, it’s not an open-and-shut matter. In multi-unit rental buildings, for example, the impact of the tax is spread over many tenants. Also, a parcel tax will in some cases be less regressive than alternatives.

  6. CarolineSF on Mar 4, 2014 at 4:04 pm03/4/2014 4:04 pm

    • 000

    Rhee and her operation are thickly Teflonized, so this will continue to slide right off. Should that be the case? Discuss among yourselves.

  7. Gary Ravani on Mar 4, 2014 at 3:56 pm03/4/2014 3:56 pm

    • 000

    So, what we have here is Rhee and the Brothers Calderon in an “American Hustle” c. 2014?

  8. Zeev Wurman on Mar 4, 2014 at 12:11 pm03/4/2014 12:11 pm

    • 000

    “Backers of a constitutional amendment on the parcel tax are cursing their luck.”

    Shouldn’t they be cursing their fellow Democratic felons (one convicted, one indicted) for their felonious acts instead? Or is it that felonies don’t really matter unless it is Republicans who are accused?


    • John Fensterwald on Mar 4, 2014 at 12:40 pm03/4/2014 12:40 pm

      • 000

      No doubt some are, Ze’ev, but they’re also regretting their own timing. Had they pushed the constitutional amendment last year, when it was first proposed and they had a 2/3 majority, it would already be headed to the ballot.

    • CarolineSF on Mar 4, 2014 at 3:41 pm03/4/2014 3:41 pm

      • 000

      Education “reformers” lost a friend too.

      National education reform advocate sought Calderon’€™s influence

      A meeting with lobbyists for Michelle Rhee occurred before the California state senator sponsored education reform bill

      by Trevor Aaronson October 31, 2013 5:41PM ET

      SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Lobbyists representing the nonprofit founded by education-reform activist Michelle Rhee met privately with Thomas Calderon, a political dealmaker here, the day before his brother Ronald Calderon, a state senator, introduced a controversial bill that would have toughened teacher performance evaluations, according to people familiar with the matter.

      The meeting with lobbyists for StudentsFirst, Rhee’s nonprofit lobbying organization, occurred on Feb. 20 of this year. The next day, state and other public records show, Ronald Calderon introduced the bill championed by Rhee’s group. There is no indication that Rhee attended the meeting, and she did not respond to requests for an interview.

      Ronald Calderon’s push for the education bill came after Rhee’s organization provided critical financial support to the political campaign of his nephew Ian Calderon. In May 2012, state records show, StudentsFirst funneled $378,196 through a political action committee to Ian Calderon’s successful campaign for the California Assembly.


Template last modified: