Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Bid to overhaul California tax measures clears Senate hurdle

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 would reduce the threshold of passage from two-thirds to 55% for certain bond and tax measures.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A constitutional amendment that would lower the vote threshold needed to pass certain local tax measures in California passed another hurdle Monday on its way to the Senate floor.

If approved by the Legislature — and then voters — Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 would drop the threshold from two-thirds to 55% in local elections for general obligation bonds and some special taxes for supportive housing projects, affordable housing and public infrastructure.

Lawmakers are racing against a Thursday deadline — when the Legislature adjourns for the year — to pass the measure. It requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers and a simple majority at the polls. It’s slated for the November 2024 ballot.

ACA 1 passed 5-2 on Monday in the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee. It now proceeds to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Cindy Silva, mayor of Walnut Creek and past president of the League of California Cities, called cities the state’s economic engines. To keep those engines running, they must invest in critical infrastructure.

“We must invest in affordable housing,” Silva said. She added: “ACA 1 can create parity.”

Doug Subers, with the California Professional Firefighters, said fire agencies struggle with tight budgets. He listed a handful of local ballot measures that exceeded a simple majority but failed because they couldn’t reach the necessary two-thirds.

One of those agencies was the Higgins Area Fire Protection District in Nevada County. In 2020 it had a tax parcel increase on the ballot, which garnered 58.3% of the vote. It needed two-thirds. Subers said the failure of the ballot measure led to layoffs and the closure of a fire station.

“While some 58% of the voters approved, the measure was unable to attain the necessary two-thirds support as required under the 1978 Proposition 13,” the fire district said in a March 2020 statement.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, called ACA 1 a direct attack on Proposition 13, California's landmark — and voter-approved — referendum on taxation. Losing the two-thirds threshold enshrined in Proposition 13 will lead to more taxes.

Peter Blocker, vice president of policy at the California Taxpayers Association, called Proposition 13 an important protection for people.

“It is a protection that should not be weakened,” he said.

The bill’s author — Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Winters Democrat — has said a 55% threshold is the same that’s currently required to approve bonds for local school construction projects.

The elections and constitutional amendments committee on Monday also advanced ACA 13 to the Senate Appropriations Committee in a 6 to 1 vote.

ACA 13 would require that a ballot measure to increase the vote threshold required for a future initiative must pass by that same margin. It would apply only to future ballot measures, and not affect thresholds already in effect.

It also would protect the right of local governments to put an advisory ballot question on any election ballot.

Assemblyman Christopher Ward, a San Diego Democrat, said his legislation could be summed up in one question: If a ballot measure would increase a voter threshold, should it require the same number of votes?

Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities, said the measure is about fairness.

The California Business Roundtable issued a letter opposing ACA 13, stating that it only affects measures placed on the ballot by signature gatherers, not the Legislature.

Ward said he’s seen a pattern of abuse in the citizen-initiated process to change the state constitution, which is why his legislation focuses on the signature gathering.

Categories / Government, Law, Politics

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