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  • Print publication year: 1995
  • Online publication date: March 2010

1 - The context and significance of tax revolts


The first major tax revolt in postwar United States history took place in California in June of 1978. Voters approved by overwhelming majority Proposition 13, which amended the state constitution. In the next several years, the taxlimitation movement swept the country, with more than 58 separate ballot measures appearing throughout the country between 1979 and 1984. In 1980, in another major episode, voters in Massachusetts approved Proposition 21/2, which limited both the rate and growth of property taxes to 2.5%.

What were the origin and significance of the tax revolts that shook the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s? Some observers believed that these tax uprisings signaled a new relationship between government and the citizenry, a revolt against government in general. Contrary to their predictions, however, government continued to grow throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It is more instructive to view the tax revolts as reactions against perceived abuses of a particular tax, the property tax. Revolts against the property tax are not new phenomena and have taken place throughout the world. In order to gain a better appreciation for the context of tax revolts and Proposition 13, it is valuable to examine four distinct episodes of revolts against the property tax: the limitation movement during the Great Depression, Proposition 13, Proposition 2V2, and the revolt against the poll tax in the late 1980s in the United Kingdom.

Four tax revolts

The tax revolts of recent years pale in comparison to the activities that took place during the Great Depression. In 1932 and 1933 alone, 16 states and numerous localities enacted property tax limitations.