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Terry McCater: The first major tax earthquake since Proposition 13 has occurred


In 1978, with the passage of Proposition 13, California experienced a political earthquake, setting the property tax rate at 1% of the assessed valuation and imposing a limit on the approval of two-thirds of voters in agreeing to any future tax increases.

There was also a big shock last month with the state appeals court ruling that initiative measures placed on the ballot by citizen groups are not binding on the two-thirds requirement and that a simple majority suffices.

Governments have been complaining for years that the two-thirds requirement is too high to reach; It allows a minority of voters to dictate to the majority of the electorate. Nevada took some measures to reach this magic number of 67%: the Nevada City Road Improvement Tax, the Grass Valley Road Improvement Tax, and the county library sales tax measure. However, recent fire tax measures through individual fire zones have faced a defeat, often due to the huge hurdle of getting two-thirds of taxpayers to agree to tax themselves.

Taxation was opened up a bit in 2017 with the Upland California Supreme Court ruling. Her ruling relates to a citizen-initiated ballot on marijuana taxation in that southern California city.

… I’m not sure this concept has passed the test of smell or the concept of true democracy.

“Many provisions of the state constitution explicitly restrict the power of local governments to raise taxes. But we will not lightly apply such restrictions on local governments to voter initiatives,” said Supreme Court Justice Coyard, who wrote the majority opinion 5-2. The judge implicitly indicated that special purpose taxes levied on voters through signature collection initiatives may not be subject to two-thirds vote requirements for taxes required by the governments themselves.

With this, the advocates of the new tax quickly switched to the initiative process, hoping that Coyard’s opinion would allow them to succeed with only a simple majority vote. Several tests of theory emerged from the 2018 elections, but court judges strongly disagreed over whether it should be ratified.

Finally, the California Court of Appeals First Circuit (3-0) ruled that the San Francisco voter initiative (Proposition C), which imposed a commercial tax in support of homeless services, was legal given that a simple majority of voters supported the measure. . The court upheld the city’s argument that initiatives put on the ballot by citizens need only a simple majority to pass while those put out by lawmakers need two-thirds to pass.

Laura Dougherty, staff attorney for the Howard Jarvis Association (parent organization of Proposition 13), said the organization “naturally” intends to appeal the case to the state’s Supreme Court.

“The voters who agreed to Proposition 13 never intended to create multiple approval margins for the electorate,” she said. “Constitutionally, a two-thirds vote is necessary for any special tax.”

In fact, school bond procedures only have an acceptance threshold of 55% of voters due to the passage of Proposition 39 in 2000, which is starting to erode Proposition 13. Local school districts (Grass Valley, Nevada Union, and Sierra College) have taken advantage of that lower number to pass the bond measures. In Nevada Province since the age of 39.

The battle lines are now set for a tax showdown in the San Francisco State Supreme Court. Since the court’s ruling, judges are now being asked to clarify their ruling and determine whether citizen initiatives really need only more than 50 percent to be operational. If so, you can be assured that local jurisdictions, including Nevada County, will rush to put citizens’ initiatives on the ballot in support of fire or homelessness activity.

It is interesting to debate the fact that all other voter activities need a simple majority to be elected or ballot procedures pass, but tax measures allow a minority of voters to control the will of the majority. I’m not sure this concept passes the scent test with the concept of true democracy.

Terry McCater is a member of the Federation’s Editorial Board. Its opinions are its own and do not represent the views of the Union or its editorial board. Contact him at [email protected]


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