Despite Budget Surplus, California Democrats Propose Array of New Taxes

California Gov. Gavin Newsom / Getty Images
March 13, 2019

California Democrats have proposed a wide array of new taxes in the new legislative session that have some party members in the state worried about the potential political fallout.

California legislative Democrats have proposed taxes and fees on soda, tire changes, dialysis clinics, lead-acid batteries, and drinking water, as well as a firearms excise tax and an oil and gas severance tax.

These potential new taxes come with California already the 10th-highest taxed state in the country by population and percentage of income and a projected $21.4 billion budget surplus, according to a new report by CalMatters.

While Democrats enjoy super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature—61 of 80 in the Assembly and 28 out of 40 in the Senate—Republicans still have sway with Californians tiring of endless new taxes:

Republicans funded an effort to repeal that gas tax in November and even though the initiative failed statewide, it carried in eight Democratic Assembly districts and one Democratic Senate district, according to Rob Pyers, research director at the California Target Book.

"Having to vote on an endless series of taxes is political malpractice," Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio told CalMatters. "I think leadership recognizes that and they’re trying to tamp down expectations because that’s the most difficult vote they can take."

The report noted Maviglio is fighting the soda tax on behalf of the soda industry.

Orange County Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D.) is on record opposing the proposed water-meter fee that also taxes fertilizer and dairy production.

"I think that there are other approaches that I would like to see us explore that I think would be more effective," she said in Sacramento.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) has an ambitious, liberal agenda that would be difficult to fund even with those revenue streams, which are largely focused on environmental and public health benefits. The new governor proposed a $209 billion budget in January and seeks such measures as universal health care, cheaper college, and expanded housing.

He already canceled a high-speed rail project prized by his predecessor Jerry Brown (D.), saying it was too expensive and would take too long to complete.