A Changing Electorate

by John Anderson & Kathryn Burke, Cerrell

In recent years, California voters overwhelmingly supported local revenue measures – school bonds and increases to sales tax and property tax assessments. However, the temperature of the electorate across California was different in the March 2020 election. Very different.

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Voters rejected an unprecedented number of local school bonds and tax hikes all over the state. According to the California Local Government Finance Almanac, of the 238 local tax and bond measures on the March 2020 ballot, 96 passed and 142 failed. That’s almost a 60% fail rate!

In Los Angeles County, Measure FD and the cities of Artesia, Avalon, Bell City, Cerritos, Monterey Park, San Dimas, Torrance, and West Covina all had revenue raising measures fail. These initiatives have been generally successful, and voters’ rejection of these measures could indicate tax fatigue, especially after the adoption of recent LA County measures like Measure H, M and W. 

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The Cerrell team had the pleasure of working with the cities of Duarte and Norwalk over the past several months, and despite this uphill battle, the voters in both cities passed local sales tax measures to maintain public safety levels, city infrastructure and community programs. These cities took quick action to educate their residents on its budget challenges and the important steps taken to ensure their communities remain vibrant, safe and prosperous.

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Looking forward to the November election, many cities, counties, schools district and special agencies are hoping to see a different outcome. This past election reminds us how important it is to communicate with residents and community stakeholders months before voters hit the polls.

This is increasingly true as state and local governments brace for huge cuts due to coronavirus-related revenue loss prompting layoffs and furloughs for public workers as well as reductions in essential services such as emergency response, public safety, infrastructure maintenance and community programs.

California’s 482 cities say they will collectively lose $6.7 billion over the next two years assuming stay at home orders are lifted on June 1, according to an estimate compiled by the League of California Cities. The longer the stay-at-home orders are in place, the longer businesses are closed, the greater the revenue shortfalls will be.

Local leaders and the dedicated staff working at government entities across the state are undoubtedly questioning whether or not it’s a sensible decision to ask voters to consider a revenue raising measure on the November 2020 ballot. Not even Nostradamus could predict when things will return to what we once considered normal. 

But one thing is clear – it’s important now more than ever that local agencies communicate with their communities and are direct about the challenges they are facing as well as the steps each agency is taking to protect vital services and jobs.

Since our founding in Los Angeles in 1966, Cerrell has built countless successful strategic communications and advocacy programs. Our trademark approach – Strategy. Action. Results. – have helped cities, non-profits, multinational corporations and trade associations achieve their goals.

Cerrell’s team of strategic communications professionals are skilled at crafting unique, multilingual and integrated municipal education programs that tell a story in a concise, compelling and authentic way. 

Our team partners with California municipalities, districts and agencies to educate constituents about ballot measures, manage crises, protect and strengthen brands, and build more connected communities.

Contact Cerrell today to learn how we can craft a comprehensive public education program to engage your community and ensure voters are well informed leading up to the November election.