Group Asks Court to Block $500 Million Parcel Tax Meant to Fund LA Schools

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A proposed parcel tax meant to generate $500 million for the Los Angeles Unified School District over the next 12 years is under fire from a fiscal conservative group that says the language in the measure is ambiguous and should not be included on the ballots this June, according to a complaint filed Tuesday.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is asking a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to order the county registrar to keep the parcel tax measure from appearing on the June 4 ballot, claiming the language in the measure does not make clear how much homeowners will be taxed.

In January, the school district ground to a halt when 30,000 educators went on strike to demand that it hire more staff. School administrators argued a lack of funding caused the shortfalls in the nation’s second largest school district.

The protest prompted the conversation about the parcel tax, which is supported by United Teachers of Los Angeles, labor organizations and current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Steve Ballmer.

Local business associations, including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, oppose the measure.

Ballot Measure EE would subject “habitable space” to a tax of 16 cents per square foot, revenue that would go to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which approved the original language of the measure Feb. 28.

In early March, the district’s superintendent, Austin Beutner, asked a county election official to amend the language that appears on the ballot to have the tax apply to the “square footage of all buildings or structures erected on or affixed to the land.”

The taxpayers association claims in its complaint that the changes made to the ballot measure voters would see this June were not made in a “public meeting after notice” as required by state law.

“It’s inconsistent with what was passed in the resolution,” Jon Coupal, president of the association, told Courthouse News. “If they want to start over in their process to get another measure then they can do that, but we’ll oppose that if it comes to it.”

Coupal said the association’s members are also concerned that the language in the proposed parcel tax is ambiguous.

The lack of clarity over “habitable space” could mean a homeowner is taxed for a storage shed or garage on their property, according to Coupal.

According to the complaint, “voters cannot know what Measure EE lawfully proposes,” but the revised measure would apply not only to residential properties, but to “all types of real property with any building or structure,” including commercial, industrial, warehouse, hospital and recreational.

The complaint states that Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan violated elections code when he accepted the amended language from Beutner. Logan is named in the complaint along with the registrar’s office and the Board of Education.

“Our Department acted in accordance with our legal and ministerial obligations related to the administration of the election,” said Michael Sanchez, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk.

The school district’s general counsel David Holmquist said that the lawsuit “has no merit.”

“The conversation should be about the need to adequately fund our local schools,” he said.

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