Critics argue that Californians are already overtaxed. And the public health initiative likely won’t be the only proposal on the November ballot that would increase taxes on high-income earners. Another measure, which appears likely to make the ballot, would raise the personal income taxes of residents who earn more than $2 million a year to fund electric vehicles and wildfire suppression efforts.
A University of California-Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released April 15 found that 64% of California voters feel that the state and federal taxes “they and their family have to pay are too high,” a 10 percentage point increase over six years ago.
“Why are we even talking about raising taxes when we have a nearly $50 billion state budget surplus,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “This is exactly why we’re seeing significant flight out of California and why wealthier individuals like Elon Musk are leaving for states like Texas and Florida.”
As coronavirus cases have declined statewide and nationally, the economy has emerged as a major priority among Californians.
According to a March survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 35% of state residents said recent price increases had “caused serious financial hardship.” And many expressed concern over rising housing costs and homelessness. At the same time, nearly 80% of Californians were optimistic that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic was “behind us,” the poll found.
Patrick Kallerman, vice president of research for the Bay Area Council, which represents business interests, argued that higher taxes could drive high-income people out of California and cut into the state’s tax base. “These record budget surpluses California is seeing are coming from the same higher-income folks who would see bigger taxes, so we need to think long and hard about how to keep California’s golden goose,” Kallerman said. He noted that the Bay Area Council has not taken a position on the public health initiative.
But campaign organizers and supporters say the investments would make California more attractive to businesses and prospective residents.
“California will be a global leader in this new area of technology and will serve as a model for the nation and the world while creating thousands of new, well-paid jobs, generating millions of dollars in new tax revenues, and drawing talent and private investment into the state,” the initiative language states.
The organization that the measure would create — the California Institute for Pandemic Prevention — would distribute public health grants to researchers, institutions, and scientists studying ways to reduce the transmission of dangerous pathogens. That could include investing in genomic sequencing — the science behind tracing viruses that helped California researchers be the first to identify a case of the omicron variant in the U.S.
The California Department of Public Health and the state’s 61 local public-health agencies would also receive new tax revenue to hire more epidemiologists, nurses, and other public health professionals to replace the ones who have resigned en masse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The revenue could also fund vaccination campaigns and contact tracing, data-sharing systems, and public health laboratories — 11 of which have closed in California since 1999.