Public officials talked gloomily of "Black Wednesday." and "Yes on 13" signs sprouted spontaneously on lawns and car bumpers yesterday as Californians prepared for a tax revolution that would shake the property tax system to its foundations.
"We're going to send a message this is no longer a government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats and for the bureaucrats," Howard Jarvis, author of the tax limitation initiative known as Proposition 13, told a crowd of supporters at an election-eve rally.
Hour before the polls closed, with 9 5/8 in the wake of reports a merger an extremely heavy turnout of voters that ran at least 15 percent ahead of the 1974 primary election, politicians on all sides conceded the passage of Proposition 13.
Anticipating this victory,Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. was reported to be preparing a statement saying in effect that "the people have spoken" and that no new taxes would be levied by the state make up for the $6 billion to $7 billion in local tax revenue that would be lost.
Brown vigorously opposed the ballot proposition, but in recent days has been talking about how to implement the anticipated decisions of voters. Some Democrats have suggested jokingly that it won't be too many days before the governor is actually claiming authorship of the amendment and having his picture taken with Jarvis.
Proposition 13 would limit property taxes to 1 percent of the 1975-76 assessed valuations. Another provision of the 387-word initiative would require a two-thirds vote of the legislative before any new state taxes could be imposed to make up for lost property-tax revenues.
Even if Brown wanted to raise the state sales, income or corporation taxes, his chances of doing so would be next to none in an election year. A poll taken recently by Americans for Democratic Action showed that only 23 percent of state legislators favor raising state taxes in the present session.
What most politicians expect the state government to do is funnel all or most of the state's current $4 billion surplus to schools and local governments. The dispute in the legislature is likely to be over the formula used to send back the surplus.
The dominant mood in local governments was gloom and confusion. In Los Angeles, school board officials talked of canceling the summer session, scheduled to begin in July.
In San Francisco, officials said that 67 of 80 recreation centers, all the golf courses and six of nine swimming pools will close. Across San Francisco Bay in Alameda County, the sprawling East Bay Regional Park System said it would raise parking and swimming fees and try to get through the summer.
"Maybe that time there will be some rationality reaching us - maybe 13 will be declared unconstitutional said Richard Trudeou, general manager of the park system.
In San Francisco there was a reported run on books at the 26 branch libraries, which the city librarian said might have to close down if Proposition 13 passed.
Supporters of the measure denounced such talks as untruthful and exaggerated. Any city officials, when pressed about specific plans, usually said they would wait to see what the legislature will do before any precipitous action.
There was a rival tax-reduction measure on the ballot, Proposition 8, which would reduce the tax on a typical home by 30 percent, compared with 57 percent for Proposition 13. But Proposition 8 was rushed to the ballot so quickly, when the legislature and Brown decided it was needed to head off Proposition 13, that voters did not even receive a ballot argument in favor of it.
The belated response of Proposition 8 was another example of the unpreparedness of public officials for a grass-roots tax revolt which flourished when soaring property taxes threatened to cost some voters their homes.
Voters turned down a far milder tax and spending limitations measure sponsored by then-governor Ronald Reagan in 1974, but taxes have increased astronomically since them. Last year, in the face of repeated warnings about voter unrest, neither the legislature nor Brown could agree on a property tax relief solution.
All four Republican candidates for governor pledged Monday that they would oppose any new tax increases to offset the effect of Proposition 13.
The candidates were Attorney General Evelle Younger and Former Los Angeles police chiefEd Davis, who supported the measure, and Fresno Assemblyman Ken Maddy and San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who opposed it.
According to preelection polls, Younger, Davis and Maddy were locked in a tight race in which other issues, and to a great extent the governors's race itself, have been obscured by Proposition 13.
One indication of the grass-roots character of the initiative was the home-made signs which were seen everywhere in Southern California on election day. Most of them said simply, "Yes on 13," but one more-imaginative bumper sticker read: "How Do You Spell Relief? Vote Yes on Proposition 13." On the other side of the issue a bumper sticker read, "If Your House Catches on Fire, Call Howard Jarvis."