In 1978, with the passage of Proposition 13, California experienced a political earthquake, setting the property tax rate at 1% of assessed valuation and imposing a two-thirds voter approval threshold for any future tax increases.
A major tremor also occurred last month with the State Court of Appeals ruling that initiative measures placed on the ballot by citizen groups are not bound to the two-thirds requirement and that a simple majority would suffice.
Governments have moaned for years that the two-thirds requirement is too high of a hurdle to reach; that it allows a minority of the voters to dictate to the majority of voters. Nevada County has had a few measures get to that magic 67% number: Nevada City’s Road Improvement Tax, Grass Valley’s Road Improvement Tax and the County Libraries Sales Tax Measure. Recent fire tax measures through individual fire districts, though, have met with defeat, oftentimes due to the high hurdle of getting two-thirds of taxpayers to agree to tax themselves.
The taxing door opened a bit in 2017 with the California Supreme Court’s “Upland” decision. Its ruling concerned a citizen-initiated ballot measure on taxing marijuana in that Southern California city.
… not sure this concept passes muster or the smell test with the concept of true democracy.
Writing the 5-2 majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Cuéllar stated, “Multiple provisions of the state constitution explicitly constrain the power of local governments to raise taxes. But we will not lightly apply such restrictions on local governments to voter initiatives.” The Justice implied that special purpose taxes placed before voters via signature-gathered initiatives may not be held to the two-thirds vote requirement for taxes sought by governments themselves.
With that, advocates of new taxes quickly turned to the initiative process, hoping that Cuéllar’s opinion would allow them