Too many taxes are masquerading as fees, escaping the ballot box scrutiny of California citizens who are paying them.
State and local fees and assessments are the fastest growing component of California's tax burden, increasing by $1.7 billion in 1992-93 alone.
Now voters have an opportunity to weigh in on the issue: Proposition 218 on the November 5 general election ballot.
This initiative deserves support, and here is why:
Proposition 62, a voter-approved initiative reinstated by the state Supreme Court last year, attempts to treat residents of charter and general law cities alike, but this was a statutory initiative and there is a legal debate over whether its vote requirements apply to charter cities. Proposition 218 is a constitutional amendment, which would cut through mounds of litigation.
Proposition 218, which is called "The Right to Vote on Taxes Act" by its sponsors, will provide taxpayers clear protections, reiterating existing law in ways intended to erase all doubt about how far a government can reach into taxpayers' pockets. It will apply needed brakes to the end-run practice of disguising taxes as fees to avoid existing requirements for voter approval.
Taxes disguised as fees have mushroomed all over California in the wake of Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that reduced property taxes and restricted their growth.
In the final analysis, voters should ask themselves: What's wrong with voters deciding whether to raise taxes?
What's wrong with requiring policymakers to justify their budget decisions and convince the electorate to dig deeper for more tax dollars?
The hunch here is those who budget existing revenues wisely will have less difficulty winning voter approval for the taxes they need to operate their cities and counties.