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Analyzing voter support for California’s local option sales taxes for transportation

  • Author(s): Brown, A
  • Lederman, J
  • Taylor, BD
  • Wachs, M
  • et al.
Abstract

Local and regional governments in the U.S. rely increasingly on voter-approved local option sales taxes (LOSTs) to fund transportation capital investments, maintenance, and operations. LOSTs typically present voters with lists of local transportation projects and programs to be funded by a ¼ to 1 percent sales tax increase. Most research on LOSTs are case studies, which make generalizations about LOSTs difficult. We conducted a comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional analysis of LOST measures in California, the U.S. state with the greatest number of LOST measures. We examined 76 LOST measures put to voters between 1976 and 2016 to assess factors associated with voter support. LOSTs in California are enacted by counties, which we examined in addition to smaller intra-county geographies using both regression models and case studies. We tested several explanatory variables for association with voter support including macroeconomic and political context, planned measure expenditures, voter characteristics, and spatial distribution of proposed projects. We found that funding dedicated to public transit and returned to local jurisdictions predicts support at the county level, and that LOSTs that create new taxes—as opposed to extending or renewing existing taxes—are less popular with voters, all else equal. Our analyses of sub-county geographies revealed that political party affiliation is the strongest predictor of local voter support for LOSTs and that voters living adjacent to funded projects tended to be more supportive of LOSTs.

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