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California lawmakers try to kill business-backed tax reform measure

California Democratic leaders are asking the state Supreme Court to remove a business-backed measure from the November ballot that would require voter approval for any increase in state or local taxes.

Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, filed an emergency petition with the state Supreme Court Tuesday seeking to remove the “Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act” initiative from the November 2024 ballot. Gov. Gavin Newsom supports efforts to block the measure.

It would apply to any tax and certain fees adopted after Jan. 1, 2022. Local governments would have one year to ask voters to reapprove those taxes. The initiative would also impose requirements for the ballot materials used to submit taxes to voters.

“This ballot initiative is an unlawful effort to revise our state constitution, and is attempting to fundamentally restructure the roles of California’s legislative and executive branches, as well as the role of local governments,” Atkins and Rivas said in a joint statement. “The measure seeks to eliminate the state’s ability to swiftly respond to emergencies and provide resources for critical services that Californians and communities rely upon.”

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, pictured right, speaking with Sen. Alex Padilla, jointly filed a lawsuit with Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D- San Diego, seeking to block a tax reform ballot measure.

California Assembly

“We can’t underscore enough the amount of harm this initiative would cause Californians,” Atkins and Rivas said. “We are calling on the California Supreme Court to determine that this far-reaching and disruptive proposal is a constitutional revision.”

The League of California Cities, which plans to file an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit and is advocating for a pre-election review of the measure, claimed the California Business Roundtable — a group of the state’s wealthiest corporations — is sponsoring the initiative.

“The lawsuit shows just how far Sacramento politicians will go to deny voters the right to vote on future taxes,” said Hector Barajas, a spokesperson for the ballot measure’s sponsors.

The measure gives Californians the right to vote on all future tax increases; requires transparency in tax proposals by requiring they clearly state the tax, rate, use, and duration of the tax; stops the use of hidden taxes — fees that charge more than the reasonable cost of service; and requires elected officials to approve the fees proposed by state and local bureaucrats, Barajas said.

If passed, the ballot measure would expand the definition of what constitutes a tax and raise the voter approval threshold for local taxes. The initiative would also limit certain fees to the least amount necessary to provide the service.

“This measure proposed by some of the state’s wealthiest corporations would effectively block the state’s ability to quickly respond to major challenges — potentially putting lives and our economy at risk,” said Erin Mellon, the governor’s communications director.

“The governor is not a proponent of tax increases and has fought against propositions seeking to add new taxes, but the recession 15 years ago underscores the need for government to use every tool in the toolbox to respond to crises,” Mellon said.

“We’re asking the California Supreme Court to keep this radical effort led by wealthy business interests off the ballot because it violates the constitution by attempting to completely restructure our system of government in a way that will prevent government from protecting Californians from future crises,” Mellon said.

“If this measure passes, it will upend and jeopardize city revenue streams needed to provide essential local services,” Carolyn Coleman, the League’s executive director and CEO said in a statement. “Our residents expect and rely upon fire, police, and a wide range of other services — including shelter for those experiencing homelessness, safe streets and roads, the maintenance of playgrounds and sidewalks, and garbage removal. But with this measure, residents will get less.”

“Given what’s at stake, our cities deserve clarity sooner rather than later regarding the validity of this measure,” Coleman said.

Writ petitions are generally heard as a matter of discretion by the state Supreme Court, according to the League. Pre-election ballot measure reviews are conducted when the validity of an initiative is in serious doubt, and where the matter can be resolved before unnecessary expenditures of time and effort have been placed into a futile election campaign.

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