California's demographic trends provide a first glimpse of what all of America will look like in the future, and its new attitude toward finding the revenue to pay for a more activist government. The passage of several ballot propositions last November, coupled with the increases in income tax rates just passed in Congress to avoid the "fiscal cliff," suggest that the anti-tax revolt, which was born in California, is now coming to an end to be replaced by a more civic-oriented attitude on the part of voters.
In 1978, Proposition 13 was passed by the voters of California who were fed up with inflation-driven, double digit, increases in property taxes, sparking a nation-wide tax revolt that Ronald Reagan rode all the way to the White House. At that time, Jerry Brown was in his first incarnation as governor of California and the Democrats controlled a two-thirds majority in the State Assembly. Proposition 13 was not only designed to limit future property tax increases for existing home owners but to limit the ability of Democratic legislators to continue to raise taxes. It did so by imposing a new constitutional requirement that a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature would be needed for lawmakers to pass any type of tax increase in the future.
Now, fast forward to Nov. 6, 2012 when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown bet the fate of his return engagement as California's governor on the passage of a ballot proposition designed to balance the state's chronic budget shortfall by raising an additional $6 billion through temporary increases in the state sales tax (by one-quarter of a percent) and the state income taxes on high income earners. The measure, Proposition 30, passed easily, (by a 54% to 46% margin).
A ballot proposal to raise a billion dollars by closing a loophole in the way the tax liabilities of out-of-state corporations were calculated passed by an even wider, 20-point, margin. And over 80 percent of the 140 local school bond proposals on ballots across the state that day also were approved by voters. Not only that, but when all the votes in California were finally counted, the Democrats had won two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature, not just in the Assembly, but, for the first time since 1883, in the state Senate as well.
As one California Republican political analyst put it, "the anti-tax zealots who for years have been tail-wagging the old flea-bitten Republican dog. Well, now, there is no dog. Only fleas."
According to CNN exit polls, 27 percent of California voters this year were under 30, up from 20 percent in the Obama-mania year of 2008. These members of the Millennial Generation voted for Proposition 30 by a two-to-one margin.
Latinos made up 23 percent of this year's California voters, compared to only 18 percent in 2008. The Republican Party and its positions have continued to lose support among this rapidly growing segment of the electorate ever since Gov. Pete Wilson used his support of Proposition 187, which was designed to deny all public services for undocumented immigrants, to ride to re-election in 1994.
Asian-American voters doubled their presence in the California electorate, from 6 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2012. The fastest growing segment of the electorate swung decisively toward the Democratic Party and its causes in this election. President Obama won 79 percent of their vote; 61 percent of them voted for Proposition 30. Although this development surprised a lot of analysts, a June 2012 Pew survey showed that 55 percent of Asian-Americans preferred a big government that provided more services, while only 36 percent preferred the alternative, more traditional Republican posture.
Right now, the state's demographic makeup is more diverse than the rest of the country. Only 55 percent of the California electorate in 2012 was white compared to 72 percent nationally. But with the country becoming less and less white each year, it is likely that the anti-tax revolt that started in California will begin to die out across the rest of the country as these demographic trends accelerate almost everywhere in America.
The state's election results signal the arrival of a new demographic alignment, one whose civic ethos will call for a stronger role for government and for the taxes to pay for it. If California lives up to its reputation as a national trend setter, this will soon become the majority viewpoint in the entire United States, not just in its most populous state.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America" and "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics" and fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute.
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