California voters could decide in 2020 whether it should be easier for their local governments to raise taxes and issue bonds for affordable housing, road improvements and other public projects.
A constitutional amendment proposed Wednesday would lower how much voter support communities need to raise money for infrastructure projects from two-thirds to 55 percent.
Assembly Democrats say the current threshold allows a minority of voters to derail needed projects.
“These two-thirds thresholds are meant to enable a boisterous minority to impede progress,” said Assemblyman Todd Gloria of San Diego.
But taxpayer advocates said it would make things more expensive for homeowners in particular because it could lead to more parcel taxes, a flat tax levied on property owners.
“If this passes it’s going to be devastating for property owners,” said David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Constitutional amendments need support from two-thirds of lawmakers to land on the ballot, and the backing of a simple majority of voters to become law.
Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat sponsoring the amendment, said she hopes to place it on the November 2020 ballot. That would coincide with the presidential election, which usually draws the highest voter turnout and millions more Democrats than Republicans.
It would apply to projects including affordable housing, wastewater treatment, fire and police buildings, parks, public libraries, broadband expansion, hospitals and more.
Local governments typically fund those projects through bonds or special taxes, like the parcel tax or a dedicated sales tax.
The 55 percent threshold would still be higher than the simple majority communities need to raise general taxes, such as sales taxes not dedicated to special projects.
Democrats highlighted projects that have narrowly missed the two-thirds threshold to make their case, such as a recreation center restoration in Millbrae and road repairs in Eureka.
“I have heard about deteriorating buildings, decrepit community facilities and our extreme lack of affordable housing,” said Aguiar-Curry, a former mayor of a small rural California city. “This will empower communities to take action at the local level to improve the economies, neighborhoods and residents’ quality of life.”
But Wolfe, of the taxpayers association, said the list of allowable projects is broad and could lead to a slew of new tax and bond proposals from cities and counties that could saddle taxpayers for years.
“These are pretty encompassing categories and there’s no limit,” he said. “You’re talking about long-term debt that lasts for decades.”