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Former California lawmakers oppose court review of anti-tax initiative

A group of former Democratic California lawmakers have filed an amicus brief arguing against current Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to block a voter initiative that would require voter approval for any increase in state or local taxes.

Former Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, former Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Roos, and former Assemblymember Joe Coto wrote in the amicus letter, posted on the measure’s campaign website, that they have not taken a stand in favor of the measure, they just believe that asking the state Supreme Court to remove it from the ballot sets a dangerous precedent.

Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Akins, D-San Diego and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister had filed an emergency petition with the state Supreme Court in September seeking to remove the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act initiative from the ballot. Gov. Gavin Newsom supported efforts to block the measure.

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas pictured to the right, speaking with U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, joined with Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins in asking the State Supreme Court to review the voter tax initiative.

Assembly Speaker’s office

The measure 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.

Its proponents have gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the November 2024 ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

“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.

Perata, Roos and Coto argue in their letter that if the state’s high court blocks the measure it would set a dangerous precedent, because it breaks the court’s well-established standards for pre-election challenges and blocks voters from weighing in on the measure.

Unless it is withdrawn by its proponent, the duly qualified measure should appear on the ballot, the three ex-lawmakers said.

“We were not consulted before members of the Legislature went to extraordinary lengths to request this court intervene in the initiative process to remove TPA from the ballot, which would deprive voters of their right to weigh in on important policy matters,” the letter states. “To be clear, we oppose this action. The foundational role that the citizens’ initiative plays in our state, and the right of the voters to utilize the initiative process, cannot and should not be abridged by this court.”

The former lawmakers also wrote that they don’t believe that anything in the lawsuit “necessitates pre-election review, and we ask this court to allow voters to weigh in first, before any legal challenges are heard and decided. If the measure fails, and it very well may, then the issue will be moot. Even if the measure is approved by voters, there will be ample time to decide any legal issues at that time.”

The current lawmakers, Atkins and Rivas, who asked for the court’s intervention, said at the time: “We can’t underscore enough the amount of harm this initiative would cause Californians. 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, said the California Business Roundtable — a group of the state’s wealthiest corporations — is sponsoring the initiative.

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.

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