The 2022 California election is likely to be packed with ballot initiatives, and as the late April signature gathering deadline approaches, City Council is taking a formal stance on potential measures.

In a March 22 meeting City Councilmembers brought forward two measures for endorsement and opposition. The first, which Council unanimously opposed, would limit the ability of cities to raise taxes via local ballot initiatives, while the second, which Council unanimously supported, would increase funding for music and arts in public schools.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich, Councilmember Oscar de la Torre and Councilmember Kristin McCowan requested the discussion of the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act, a proposed ballot initiative co-sponsored by the California Business Roundtable. 

This initiative would make it harder for local governments to raise local taxes via a ballot measure. While currently general revenue raising measures require majority support and taxes used for a specific purpose require two-thirds support, this initiative would raise the bar to two-thirds support for all local revenue raising measures. It would also require that all tax initiatives have a sunset date and would prevent local governments from putting a tax raising measure on the same ballot as a tax advisory measure. Advisory measures allow citizens to have a voice in where their local tax money is spent. 

“In my view this measure is being put on (the ballot) to prevent us from deciding how we spend our own money (and) instead giving more power to our state officials and business interests,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich.

Santa Monica has passed local revenue raising measures several times in recent elections. In 2020, residents passed Measure SM, a property transfer tax increase that generates an additional estimated $3 million per year for essential city services such as homelessness services, public safety, small business recovery and tenant protections. In 2016, residents voted in favor of Measure GSH, which authorized the City to impose an additional 0.5 percent sales tax with revenue deposited into the City’s general fund. 

Staff are currently researching potential Santa Monica revenue raising measures for the November ballot, including a potential parcel tax focused on restoring library services. 

Following the unanimous opposition to the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act, Councilmembers turned to the Arts and Music in Schools Funding Guarantee Accountability Act. This measure was brought forward for discussion by Councilmembers Lana Negrete, Kristin McCowan and Phil Brock.

This statewide ballot initiative was put together by former LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner and would raise an estimated $800 million to support arts and music education funding for schools with limited programming. The funding would not come through a tax increase, but through an allocation from the state’s general fund. 

“I think we’re lucky in the City of Santa Monica to see that in our public schools arts programming is pretty amazing, but (only) one in five public schools in California are able to experience something close to what we have. This measure is going to provide additional funding for arts and music education, without raising taxes, for all public schools in California,” said Negrete, adding that this will help public school students become better qualified for many of the creative job opportunities available locally.

Both initiatives are still in the signature gathering phase, but should either qualify for the ballot, an official letter will be sent to the California Attorney General registering Council’s respective support or opposition. 

Clara@smdp.com